Thoughts on Reading Original Dungeons & Dragons, Part VI: Spells and Magic

The first of the LBB is called Men & Magic while many clones usually have it along the lines of Characters & Combat. Given the briefness of the combat information as discussed in part V I can see why it was omitted. In contrast the spells list with the attached research and spell book notes as well as the turn undead table take up fourteen pages or roughly 40% of the booklet.

Spell Lists

First up with have the actual lists for Magic-Users and then for Clerics. In the original there are only six levels of spells for the former and five for the later. In keeping with the half and half nature of the cleric most cleric spell lists have roughly half of the count for the magic-user at the same level.

One interesting thing is the shorted magic-user list is first level and the second shortest is second level. There are only eight first level spells. Flipping back a few pages the highest charted level magic-user, sixteenth, will be able to memorize five of them. Meanwhile third level, where the iconic damage spells fireball and lightening bolt are located, has fourteen spells. Resource allocation of high level spells is much more complicated than low level ones.

For the cleric the short lists mean the highest charted cleric, level 10, will memorize half the cleric spells. In levels above those listed we learn at thirteenth level the cleric will be selecting which first level spell not to memorize.

Spells from Chainmail

Chainmail had sixteen spells. Most came over to OD&D in some form but there are some interesting notes. Phantasmal Forces, Wizard Light, Conjure Elemental, Protection From Evil, Move Terrain, Slowness, Haste, Polymorph, Confusion, Hallucinatory Terrain, Cloudkill, and Anti-Magic Shell came over intact although with minor name changes. The Chainmail complexity was used as the OD&D level.

On the carryover list is Polymorph becomes Polymorph Self which makes the limit in Chainmail explicit. OD&D adds a separate Polymorph Others spell to aid the ability to use it on others instead of expanding the original spell. Protection From Evil is actually the level three spell with a personal only version added at first level.

Detection became two spells in OD&D. Detect Invisible retains the Chainmail level of two while Detect Magic dropped to first level. Concealment becomes Invisibility. I consider this more than a name change as it takes an outcome, conceal a unit or creature, to a specific method of achieving that outcome.

The most interesting spell from Chainmail is Darkness. In OD&D the spell is the reversal of an existing spell, Light, instead of a spell in its own right. However, only cleric spells are reversible in OD&D so the Darkness spell is lost to magic-users in the LBB. Also, only evil clerics gain access to the reversed spells but not the positive version based on page 22:

Note that underlined Clerical spells are reversed by evil Clerics.

I find it interesting that the term evil is used. How we know if a cleric is good or evil is open at this point. Alignment may be an indication but that will have to wait until after Men & Magic.

Cleric spells, in general, are not from Chainmail. They have Light/Darkness. They have Protection from Evil in both the group version and the personal one. They have Detect Magic half of Detection but did not get the Detect Invisible half.

Of 70 magic-user spells in the LBB sixteen are derived from Chainmail which is over 20%. Clerics, in contrast, have three and a half Chainmail spells in a set of 26 spells or about 15%. Note, both of these count Protection from Evil twice for the personal and group versions.

Clerics versus Undead

Before getting to spell descriptions we get the cleric’s turning undead chart. Instead of level it uses level titles. Until name level this doesn’t change things but it does mean once a cleric is a Patriarch he does not improve his abilities in this category. The table notes that evil clerics do not have this effect but lose it completely unlike the control undead ability we would see in later versions.

Next up is analysis of individual spells, magical research, and spell books.

New Menu Item

If you look at the sidebar you will see a new menu item, Current Story. This will lead, for at least the next year, to a recently completed short story. This is party of sharing my work. When the story changes I will make an announcement post which will also contain my discussion of the story I have just taken down.

The current story is The Visions of Cireb.

I have also changed up my links page. As it contains several podcasts it is now Regular Visits instead of Regular Reading. I have refocuses it in accordance with my new focus for the blog in general. Right now it is strictly writing resources but music and RPG resources will be coming over time.

Total Party Kill?

Tonight is my every other week D&D Type IV game. I have enjoyed this game. It came from taking Type IV as it comes. D&D is always right applies to more than just OD&D. By not assuming my idea beats the designers I found a good game.

So I am a bit worried about tonight. One thing my players and I have not completely bought into was the total linear adventure sense that started in third and blossomed in Type IV and Pathfinder adventure paths. My sites are a bit more dynamic and reactive to the players.

Last week a couple of orc arches got away and escaped deeper in the dungeon. While the players wiped out some dissident orcs who were digging up parts of the dungeon looking for treasure orc slayers gathered up their slaves and headed out. The players caught the tail end heading up to the surface.

The paladin decided slaying is evil and the party had to pursue.

So this week we have the battle of the orc slayer tribes against the party.

The party is four level four, one level three, and one level two characters. A balanced encounter by Type IV rules is 975 xp. They are facing 2177 xp. They have not had a long rest. Dailies and healing surges have been used. The party has some advantages. The orcs want to escape with their slaves and barring that their lives. Nearly half the orcs are minions. The slaves, of which there are four groups of four, may decide to fight. I have notes on how all orc and slave moral work (basically attacks on will when an orc dies or slaves have their chains broken).

We face the real possibility of a total party kill. Despite being an old school kind of guy I am not a big fan of the TPK.

What I am a fan of is player agency. They will get one final warning tonight as they head up the stairs about the risk.

If the continue, live or die, it will be their choice and, I hope, one hell of a fight. I suspect there will be stories either way.

Isn’t that what this game is about anyway?

Thoughts on Reading Original Dungeons & Dragons, Part V: Combat

This post was originally going to be strictly about the alternate combat system in Men & Magic. However, if you actually sit down with the Little Brown Books you realize Men & Magic has less than two pages on the system. The majority of those pages is three tables. So I’m going to take a bit of a side trip into Chainmail for comparison. As well I will state my opinion on the additions in Greyhawk.

If you would like further detail on using Chainmail with OD&D I highly recommend Forbidden Lore by Jason Vey. It is a well thought out review of references to Chainmail in OD&D and discussion of how to combine the two. Plus, it is well under 20 pages of actual text and formatted to the same size as the original booklets.

Alternative Combat System

As I said, the alternate combat system in the LBB is very brief. It consists of three tables and eight sentences. Statements by Old Geezer indicate Gygax was long using this system and did not truly intend it as an alternate but that is hard to square with what Gygax gave us. There are further combat rules in Book 3 and Book 2 does include armor class for all monsters but those are circumstantial evidence.

The three tables are men attacking, monsters attacking, and the saving throw matrix. The armor class runs from 2 (best) to 9 (worst). Men attacking is in groups of three levels topping out at 16+ with a footnote that magic-users advance in groups of five and clerics in groups of four. This reinforces the idea of the cleric being half-way between the fighter and the magic-user.

Monsters attack mostly in groups of two or three hit dice. They do not map easily to the fighter or any other class. One unique item is 1+1 is separate from 1 hit dice and the 2-3 hit die group. Monsters top out at 11 hit dice on the chart.

One short note indicates the odds of hitting with missiles at long range are in the chart. Unlike more modern games medium and short range give bonuses of +1 and +2 respectively.

The same is true of the saving throw matrix but unlike the combat matrix not only is the speed of progress different but the actual values are. One minor change is the cleric and fighter both top out at level 13+ for saving throws leaving the cleric with one fewer set of advancements at four instead of five. The magic-user tops at at 16+ meaning he also only gets four advancements.

The notes on the saving throw table is the origin of “saves for half damage” with a brief list of items a where even a save results in half damage.

That is pretty much it for what Men & Magic gives us on the alternate system.

Comparisons to Chainmail

The first thing to note is Chainmail is simply more complete with turn order (for both you go/I go and simultaneous movement), morale, movement, ranges, and all the things we’ve come to expect in combat rules.

I am going to avoid looking at the Fantasy Combat Chart or the Mass Combat Chart. While both can be used with OD&D I think the majority, if not all, combats can be handled with just the Man-to-Man charts given all OD&D monsters are assigned an armor class, unlike Chainmail&s fantasy supplement. For more details on using the other charts see Forbidden Knowledge mentioned above.

If we look at the Man-to-Man charts we see they are very different. Instead of comparing fighting ability to armor class they compare the weapon type to the armor class. The armor classes use the same numbers and descriptions as the alternate combat system. There are exactly eight which are the combinations of the four armors types (none, leather/padded, chain, and plate) with the absence or presence of a shield. Unlike the alternate combat system weapon choice is meaningful. The charts are roll equal or over but are 2D6 instead of D20. As a result the rolls have a non-linear increase of odds. Due to the curve a +1 is not a flat 5% but varies from a high of a 17% bonus if the table gives an 8 or better to hit to a low of 3% if the table gives a 3 to hit.

This progressions are much flatter than the Chainmail derived ones in level charts. Fighters, in particular seem very weakened. However, every class advances every level in the Chainmail combat abilities. At first level a fighter with a sword (we have to designate a weapon for comparisons as Chainmail’s man-to-man system uses weapons in the matrix) has a 55% change (10 or better on a D20) of landing a blow in the alternate system against an unarmored opponent. Using Chainmail, where he attacks as a Man + 1 and has a 72% chance of landing a blow (6+ on 2D6). At level 3 his chances have not changed at all in the alternate combat system. In Chainmail he is now at 93% (fight as 3 Men) or 88% (fight as a Hero - 1) of hitting. Those are chances he will not see in the alternate system until level 10 when he needs a 3 or better on a D20.

Note, those percentages on based on the idea that each man level represents one attack. An alternate conclusion would be each man represents one die of damage with one attack roll. In that interpretation it is easier to compare expected damage per round. The first and third level fighter will do 1.9 points of damage a round in the alternate combat system. In Chainmail they will do 2 and 4.4 points respectively. The level 10 fighter does 3.2 under the LBB system and a whooping 16.3 under this interpretation of Chainmail.

It would appear player characters in Chainmail are much more powerful. We will look at the monsters when we reach book 2, Monsters & Treasure.

One final note on Chainmail is the weapons groups have a number designating their class. The classes have an effect on who strikes first in some circumstances. On page 26 of we are told:

The shorter and lighter the weapon, the lower its class. A man wielding a weapon four classes lower (1 vs. 5, 2 vs. 6, and so on) strikes two blows during every melee round. If a man has a weapon eight classes lower, he will strike three blows during every melee round.

I suspect this entry, filtered through the Warlock rules, is the source of Dr. Holmes note in the first version of basic that daggers strike twice each round.

Some Brief Comments on the Greyhawk Additions

Greyhawk continued providing Chainmail information with fighting capabilities for the thief and on its extended cleric and magic-user tables. It did not provide OD&D style hit point entries for them but those are easily reached. The extended tables are provided in the LBB and the thief in Greyhawk is nearly identical to the magic-user.

For those wanting weapons to affect combat in the alternate system Greyhawk provided two things. It listed variable weapon damage by weapon to replace the single D6. It also provided a weapon versus armor class table. Both were continued into AD&D but as armor class, especially that of monsters, was divorced for the armor class descriptions, the chart fell by the wayside. The changes to the hit values are more Chainmail like changing the odds to strike a damaging blow based on armor and weapon interactions.

I am of the opinion that if you wish to add these to the alternate combat system you should choose one. What has become the traditional line of D&D is variable weapons damage which was an alternate rule starting in  B/X without the by type modifications. As noted, the AD&D line initially had both. If you want to explore an different path than the original development I would use the by AC adjustments to hit. You could build a chart and use a D20 system BAB type system.

I think Oakes Spalding in Seven Voyages of Zylarthen built his attack matrixes along those lines. He characters attack at a normal man and get a bonus as they increase in level. The charts are armor class versus weapon type and all weapons do 1D6. I have not run the numbers to see if he just added Greyhawk to the LBB or how his progression maps to the original. He also uses the weapon factor mentioned above to determine blow orders although his system reads easier than Chainmail.

Next week we will discuss spells and magic.

It All Depends On Your Assumptions

Some days you don’t know what to post.

I have a book review I want to do but I'm trying to make those Saturday posts, at least for fiction. I have a “listen to my vast writing experience” post inspired by the writing book I am finishing up but I should at least do the author the courtesy of finishing before I take my clueless hands to his work.

I wrote a long rant inspired by some corporate training. There is no why I am actually posting it.

So some days you don’t know what to post. I could do the lazy thing and just post a list of things. Rush Limbaugh did that once when he had a newspaper column and quoting one to answer a question is an odd story I tell sometimes.

Hey, why not tell that story. If nothing else it is a good story on the power of assumptions when making a logical argument. Mathematicians are very familiar with the idea because it underlies the field. Other people are often easily trapped in it.

Having worked for the doomed, fortunately in retrospect, campaign for Philip Giordano I got to attend the state GOP election night party. Where I proceeded to drink a little too much cheap red wine.

As the evening wore on a reporter from the New Britain paper, where the party was being held, struck up a conversation with me. Along the way he noted the women at the GOP were much more attractive, on the whole, than he had seen at the Democrat’s party. I said I wouldn’t know relatively but acknowledged there were some attractive ladies at the GOP party. He then wondered why that was so.

At that point I let the wine do a little too much of the talking.

Half remembering Limbaugh’s Undeniable Truths list I told him about the article, one of those “I’m on a deadline so I’ll dash off a list thing”. He acknowledged recognizing the genre so a I continued and pretty much accurately quoted number 24 (although I mis-numbered it I am sure), “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society.” I then asked him which party was the party of feminism and, taking that statement as true, what that would imply about the women at the parties.

I could actually see the gears working in his head before he excused himself. I figured I had run him off by being offensive but he reappeared with his photographer.

I sobered up very quickly fearing I was about to be on the front page as proof that Republicans were sexist. Instead of a picture, however, he asked me to give my explanation to his photographer. When I was finished his photographer nodded and looked at the reporter, “That sounds about right”

Fortunately I never did wind up in the newspaper. At the time I was afraid of being called sexist. The fear has lessened over the past sixteen plus years as I’ve realized all that word means anymore is “there is a liberal woman who disagrees with you”.