Wednesday, June 2, 2010

OD&D Magic Champions Style Part 5


For Memorial Day weekend, I decided to try to and tackle one of the more daunting spell categories. Truth be told, "daunting" is an understatement. The more I fiddle with this, the more problems I either create or find. Levels are in () for Magic Users and [] for Clerics. The mechanics follow:
Infravision (3)Allows recipient to see in total darkness 40-60 feet. Duration = 1 day
Polymorph Self (4)Change into anything. Gain movement abilities, but not combat abilities. Duration = 6 + caster level turns
Polymorph Other (4)Change into anything. Gain all abilities, including combat; however, "not necessarily" the mentality and HP (a troll polymorphed into a snail would resist being stepped on). Duration = until dispelled.
Plant Growth (4)Cause normal bushes or woods to become impassable. Range = 12" Area Effect = 30" sq. (!) Duration = permanent unless dispelled by Dispel Magic
Turn Sticks to Snakes [4]Changes 2-16 sticks into snakes with a 50% chance that they will be poisonous. The snakes perform according to the caster's orders. Duration = 6 turns. Range = 12"
Animal Growth (5)Causes 1-6 normal sized animals to become giant-sized with appropriate attack abilities. Duration = 12 turns. Range = 12"
Reincarnation (6)Transforms dead character into a randomly determined living creature based on original alignment. Duration = permanent.
Stone to Flesh (6)Turns stone into living flesh. Used primarily to revive "stoned" characters. Reversible. Duration = permanent. Range = 12"
Death Spell (6)Instantly kills from 2-16 creatures with less than 7HD in a 6"x6" area. Range = 24"
Disintegrate (6)Causes any kind of material (except for magical) to disintegrate. Duration = permanent. Range = 6"

Please note: I moved Infravision, Death Spell and Reincarnation into this category.

For the sake of discussing this category, I am assuming that the base Transform spell has the following stats:

Gain one non-combat trait (i.e. infravision). Duration = 6 + caster level turns. Range = touch.
Looking at all the spells in this group, there seems to be suggested a progression on Duration — 6 turns, 1 day, permanent. Having three possible durations, however, means that it is impossible to have Plant Growth a 4th level spell — it is ranged (+1 level), has an area effect (+1 level) and a permanent duration (+2 levels) for a total of +4 levels or 5th level. Following this logic, Infravision ends up as a 2nd level spell (its only modifier from the base is Duration = 1 day for +1 level). If we get rid of the 1 day duration (returning Plant Growth to 4th level), Infravision becomes a 2nd level spell with a permanent duration. In addition, even though there seems to be a nice discernible group of effects (one non-combat characteristic; all non-combat characteristics; combat characteristics; inanimate to animate; animate to inanimate), without a Duration = 1 day option, spells like Flesh to Stone would only be 5th level — duration = permanent (+1 level), affects all non-combat & combat characteristics (+2 levels) and animate to inanimate (+1) level for a total of +4 levels or level 5. Either way, Infravision is still a 2nd level spell. If we reduce the base Transform spell to only affect inanimate objects (thus adding another level to Infravision and restoring to 3rd level) it makes higher level spells higher than 6th level. Thus, I will move forward with three possible durations and Infravision as a 2nd level spell.

On a positive note, with the exception of Death Spell and Disintegrate, Range is consistently Touch or 12"; however, problems again arise with Area Effect and number affected. These are all over the place, with the most extreme being 30" sq. (Plant Growth, which is primarily used to make a terrain impassable). Otherwise, they affect a specific number of targets — 1-6 or 2-16. I will opt for the happy medium of 2-12 and use the 6"x6" area suggested by Death Spell.

More problems arise with the three examples of the "animate to inanimate" spells. All are 6th level spells, but have different ranges, area effects and even durations:

  • Flesh to Stone: Range = 12"; affects one target; permanent until dispelled
  • Death Spell: Range = 24"; affects 2-16 targets; permanent (reversible via raise dead)
  • Disintegrate: Range = 6"; affects one target; permanent

Death Spell is significantly more powerful, even though it only affects creatures less than 7HD. But, even if it is ignored for purposes of figuring out range and area effect and the base range for the others is assumed to be the same (12"), there is no apparent way to reverse or dispel Disintegrate (Flesh to Stone can be dispelled via Stone to Flesh). Given that this spell category is ripe for abuse and in order to smooth out this discrepancy, I am going to say all Transform spells can be reversed or dispelled.

Reincarnation offers up the next hurdle. It is, in essence, the reverse of the three spells above, but does not have the range. According to the developing model, it should be a 5th level spell — duration = permanent (+2 levels), Gain all non-combat traits + combat traits (+2 levels). I would see this as a problem, save for the fact that a mere Dispel Magic can now kill the reincarnated character.

One of the largest problems with this group is with the two Polymorph spells (shocking, I know). Polymorph Other is significantly more powerful than Polymorph Self despite the fact that both are 4th level spells. If two characters were polymorphed into dragons, one by each spell, one would have a breath weapon and attack as a dragon, while the other would have no breath weapon and attack with their normal attack dice. The first would be a dragon until the polymorph was dispelled and the latter would revert to their original form 6 + caster level turns later. This discrepancy is reflected by my working model for this group. Polymorph Self should be a 3rd level spell: the caster gains all non-combat traits (+1 level) and is able to transform into inanimate objects (+1 level) for a total of +2 levels, or 3rd level. Whereas Polymorph Other stats out as 5th level: Duration = permanent (+2 level), target gains all non-combat and combat traits (+2 levels), for a total of +4 levels, or 5th level.

In other words, when trying to make sense out of this category, I have a tough choice: allow the high level spells to exist and thus lowering the spell level of some of the lower level Transform spells (and open up the game to abuse) or keep the lower level spells at their original level, but eliminate the higher level spells as written. For now, I am willing to try the former in order to keep the flavor of the higher level spells, but this category must come with a huge caveat and close scrutiny by the Referee.

Base Transform Spell: Gain one non-combat trait (i.e. infravision). Duration = 6 + caster level turns. Range = touch. EDIT: as can be seen in the comments, Roger the GS of Roles, Rules, and Rolls has pointed out that having the base Transform spell only affect living creatures solves a good deal of the potential abuse problems.

The following add one spell level:
  • Duration = 1 day
  • Range = 12"
  • Gain all non-combat traits — you look like a dragon and can fly like a dragon, but you don't have a breath weapon and you use the same combat dice you always do.
  • Affects 2-12 targets in a 6x6" area.
  • Traits affect combat (requires Gain all non-combat traits) — you look like a dragon and fight like one too.
  • Ability to transform non-living inanimate objects into living objects or vice-versa. (requires Gain all non-combat traits) — when a caster turns himself into a non-living object this is not an instant kill; however, when cast upon another target, it is.

The following add two levels:
  • Duration = permanent.

Note: all effects of Transform spells can be reversed and dispelled.
EDIT: What follows is a warning to those who (like I once did) think that Transform ought to be able to affect non-living objects.

As an example of the abuse this might very well produce, I give you Turn Lead into Gold:

1st level spell. Transform lead into Gold (one non-combat trait). Duration = 6 + caster level turns. Range = touch.

So, the Referee has to be creative or authoritarian about this. I prefer the former — in a world where Turning Lead into Gold exists (and where a mere Dispel Magic spell can destroy an entire fortune), merchants would have developed means to detect the authenticity of the currency they trade in. Any gold that radiates of magic would be deemed worthless and transactions would require a wait time of at least one day in order to wait out the Durations of lower level spells. In fact, now that I am thinking about it, this opens the door to a whole subculture in a fantasy setting based around the movement of currency . . .


  1. All the spells on the list involve living creatures. So you could just rule that Transformation only works when a living creature is involved. This makes no sense scientifically but hey, it's magic - handwaving about how only a living spirit can transform matter magically and so on.

    Other way to go is the logical step that a "noble" metal chosen for coinage must ipso facto be immune to transformation.

  2. Roger,

    Very good point. I completely missed the fact that a living creature is always involved...probably because I have such fond memories of the creative ways I used the Enlarge spell in AD&D. It is a very elegant solution that cuts down on potential abuse tremendously. Thank you!