Monday, June 28, 2010

Lost Colonies Session 19

There was one thing left unresolved from the funhouse dungeon that the party survived during the last three sessions. Something inside the dungeon had been stalking them and killing them one by one when they slept. The party had no idea what it was, nor had anyone spotted or seen what was stalking them. With that worry in mind, they settled down for their first night outside the dungeon.

Dn. Goram was awakened in the middle of the night by a brightly shining figure, who claimed to be St. Gabriel. The party had been transported to some kind of demi-plane where they had to get into a tower at the center of a city in order to save the life of one of the party members. The city was divided into seven sections. As they explored, Dn. Goram came to realize that each section represented one of the deadly sins. All the encounters in each section were related to a particular sin, and as the players exhibited these sins, they began to lose characteristic scores. As the evening progressed, the party came to realize that the entrance to the tower was locked and that in order to unlock it, they must make their way through all seven sections of the city, which they did. Once in the tower they found an amorphous being with a cruel, distorted face slowly devouring their companion. Once defeated, they found themselves back in the desert, with the creature dead at the feet of their companion, who was paralyzed but alive.

In order to emphasize the otherness of the city, I ran all the combat using a Weapon vs Armor combat system similar to what I described in a past post. Some observations:
  • Hamlen's player had a good time. He very quickly figured out that he could make tactical choices based on weapons and what armor he and his opponent were wearing. Every combat he'd be observing his opponents trying to guess what armor they had on so he could make his best weapon choice. As a result, Hamlen was very effective in combat and his player really appreciated this level of tactical choice.
  • The party quickly abandoned shields and went with two-handed weapons where ever possible. Doing as much damage as quickly as possible was more important to them than the -1 modifier to my to-hit rolls.
  • Damage was, as Dn. Goram's player termed, "spikey." With the party being 2nd to 4th level facing creatures from 1 to 6 HD, the amount of damage done per round had a tremendous amount of variability. For example, a normal 6HD creature could do from 1 to 36 points of damage in a single round. Thus, every combat was a risky endeavor and initiative became incredibly important. Towards the end of the evening, the party was trying to avoid all combat (this choice was egged on because the had a limited amount of time to accomplish their task and couldn't afford to rest and heal).
When I meditated upon this "spikey" damage, it dawned on me that this method keeps damage proportional to HD instead of HD getting ahead of damage as characters advance in level. Thus, a 1 HD creature can potentially do enough damage in one round to kill another 1 HD creature and a 9HD creature can potentially do enough damage in one round to kill another 9HD creature. Combat stays lethal regardless of character level. Depending on what style of play you like, this can be a very good thing. When I was younger, most of the campaigns I played fizzled out at mid-to-high levels because we enjoyed the by-the-seat-of-your pants lethality of lower levels so much. For my group, this change in mechanics would have been a really good fit.

Thus, there are a couple of things I need to experiment with:
  • Shields need a rethink. I can imagine giving different sizes of shields different defensive bonuses to make them more attractive. This would come at a cost of price and encumbrance.
  • Any kind of double damage (via charge, for example) is spectacularly lethal. In future I'll probable make the characters designate which die is their charge die. My players like to charge, so this won't make them happy; however, they were not on the receiving end of a charge all night...
  • There were a couple of times when the party won initiative against higher HD creatures and managed to fell the beasts prior to having to face any kind of attack by winning initiative and coordinating attacks. The players were rewarded for their cooperation and tactics; however, it wasn't as fun for me (I didn't get to see my players' horror as I pulled out 6 attack dice to spread across their front ranks). I'm not sure if there is a good way to "fix" this without unnecessarily complicating things and, frankly, I'm not sure it needs to get "fixed."
All-in-all, though, I like the system. It does what it is designed to do.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

OD&D Magic Champions Style Part 9

I haven't been posting much this week for two main reasons. I've been trying to tackle a tough spell category and I've been watching the World Cup. I've been watching this sporting spectacle since 1982, my wife grew up in Europe (thus likes football, not American football) and my father-in-law is in town. Thus, the World Cup is on, whether any one wants it or not. I can't really explain why I love this event so much. I don't watch soccer at any other time. I rankles my innate sense of justice every time the referee messes up a call (which is often — just see the disallowed goals for the U.S. this year). More so than any other sport, it is dominated by a few teams (only two finals in history haven't included Brazil, Germany or Italy and both included Argentina). Despite this, I find it a beautiful spectacle that is tremendously exciting to watch — especially in the Group Stage. Plus, it is only once every four years...

Change Environment

I have been dreading doing this particular category since I conceived of this project, because it is a tangle of mechanics that forced me to make several choices. The first was to remove Purify Food & Water, Create Water and Create Food from this list. All three spells had consistent mechanics between themselves, but did not translate well to the rest of this category. The remaining spells:
Light (1)[1]
Creates a circle of light with a 3" diameter. Not equal to full daylight. Duration = 6 + caster level turns.

Continual Light (2)[3]
Creates a light where ever the caster wishes in a 24" diameter circle. Duration = until dispelled. Range = 12" Cleric version is equal to full daylight, Magic user version is not.

Water Breathing (3)
Makes water breathable. Duration = 12 turns. Range = 3"

Telekinesis (5)
Objects up to a weight of (200gp x caster level) may be moved by mental force. Duration = 6 turns. Range = 12"

Transmute Rock to Mud (5)
Transmutes any kind of rick into mud up to 30 square inches. Movement through mud is reduced by 90%. Reversible. Duration = permanent until dry (3d6 days). Range = 12" Takes 1 turn to take effect

Cloud Kill (5)
Creates a poisonous vapor in a 3" diameter cloud that is deadly to all with less than 5HD. Duration = 6 turns (may be dispelled by strong winds). The cloud may be moved 6"/turn with the wind. SInks to the lowest possible level.

Lower Water (6)
Lowers the water level of a river or similar body of water by 50%. Duration = 10 turns. Range = 24"

Part Water (6)
Parts 10' deep water. Duration = 6 turns. Range = 12"

Move Earth (6)
Moves hills and/or ridges. Takes 1 turn to take effect. Duration = 6 turns. Range = 24" Terrain is moved at a rate of 6" per turn.

Control Weather (6)
Can change current weather into any of the following: Rain, Stop Rain, Cold Wave, Heat Wave, Tornado, Stop Tornado, Deep Clouds, Clear Sky.
Here are some of the mechanics suggested by these spells:
  • Duration: 6+ caster level turns / Permanent until dispelled (or natural forces deteriorate the spell effects).
  • Area Effect: 3" diameter / 24" diameter / 30 sq in. (Mtn/lake/river.)
  • Range: none. 3" / 12" / 24"
  • Effect: Minor Change (light) / Major Change (has mechanical affect — daylight — that affects a certain category of creature).
The problems begin with Continual Light. It has a greater area effect (+1 level), greater duration (+1 level), greater range (+1 level) and for clerics, it has a mechanical effect with full daylight (+1 level). All told, continual light ought to be at least a 4th level spell for Magic Users and a 5th level spell for Clerics! Since the main difference between Light and Continual Light is the duration, I must either bump up Light to meet the other mechanical differences or bump down Continual Light. Since bumping up Light makes it far more powerful than I think anyone would care for, I will choose to do the latter. This eliminates one step in the Area Effect mechanics. This brings us to the Cleric version, which is the equivalent to full daylight. This affects game play mechanically in that creatures who take penalties for being in daylight are affected as well as being deadly to creatures like vampires. In order to maintain the Cleric version of Continual Light, there have to be two levels of effects. Light as a minor environmental change that can affect gameplay (characters can see in darkness) but doesn't have a mechanical effect (-1 to hit) or is deadly to a certain type of creature. A major environmental change would have one or both. If both, the said categories are small. If one or the other, they categories of creatures can be larger.

Water Breathing is the next challenge. Since the base of this spell category is Light, all spells must have an area effect, Water Breathing does not. Its 3" range nicely corresponds to the 3" diameter of the base area effect; however, this renders it a 2nd level spell — it has a base duration (12 turns approximates 6 + caster turns) and a Major Effect (water breathing, which has a mechanical effect for a large group of creatures) (+1 level). This opens up the possibility of creating a 3rd level water breathing spell with a permanent duration. Which leads me to Cloud Kill. It has a base area effect, a base duration and a Major Change (+1 level). Even if I add a spell level in order to independently move the spell effect around, that still renders it a 3rd level spell. Now you know why I have been dreading this spell category.

What this tells me is two things: I need to add a level step for the Effect of the spell and I need to allow for a relatively easy way to dispel permanent durations (the spell affects the water not the character, so that once the character leaves that body of water, the spell is dispelled, for example). Thus, for a Major Change there would be two level steps. The first would be a mechanical effect that affects a specific group (i.e. creatures affected by full daylight). The next step would affect a general group of creatures (i.e. non-water breathers or creatures with less than 5HD). This gets Water Breathing up to a 3rd level spell and eliminates the possibility of permanently being able to breath water. This only gets Cloud Kill to 4th level, even with a level added for independent movement. Frankly, I think I am okay with that.

Here are the rest of the spells in this category according to these mechanics:
  • Telekinesis: base duration, base area effect, range 12" (+1 level), Major Effect [general group] (+2 levels), moves independently of caster (+1 level) = 5th level spell.
  • Transmute Rock to Mud: duration = permanent (+1 level), area effect = 30" sq. (+1 level), range = 12" (+1 level) Major Effect [general group] (+2 levels) = 6th level spell.
  • Lower Water: base duration, area effect = river (+1 level), range = 24" (+2 levels), Major Effect [general group] (+2 levels) = 6th level spell.
  • Part Water: base duration, area effect = body of water 10' deep (+1 level), range = 12" (+1 level), Major Effect [general group] (+2 levels) = 5th level spell.
  • Move Earth: base duration, area effect = hill or ridge (+1 level), range = 24" (+2 levels), Major Effect [general group] (+2 levels), moves independently of caster (+1 level) = 7th level spell.
  • Control Weather: duration = permanent (+1 level), area effect = 30" sq. (+1 level), range = 24" (+2 levels), Minor Effect = 5th level spell.
I am actually fairly pleased. There are differences between these levels and their originals, but this is mostly due the the lack of balance in those originals (Lower Water vs. Part Water, for example). In most cases, one simply has to change one mechanic (usually range) to bump the spell up or down to match its original spell level. In the case of Change Weather, I would allow it to affect a specific group mechanically, thus making it a 6th level spell.

Base Spell: Make a minor change in the surrounding environment (light, temperature, etc.). Duration = 6 + caster level turns. Area Effect 3" diameter. Range none.

The following add 1 spell level:
  • Duration = permanent (but can be easily be dispelled)
  • Area Effect = 30" sq./a single small geographic feature
  • Range = 12"
  • Effect = affects a specific group mechanically
  • Spell effect may be moved independently of the spell caster
The following add 2 spell levels:
  • Range = 24"
  • Effect = affects a general group mechanically
Example Spell Air Water
4th level spell. Duration = permanent [dispelled when caster leaves the water] (+1 level), Area Effect = 3" diameter, Range = none, Effect = makes water in the diameter breathable (+2 levels)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

OD&D Magic Champions Style Part 8


This category was actually quite straight forward:
Read Magic (1)Read magical incantations. Duration = short (one or two readings)
Read Languages (1)Same as Read Magic but for "directions" especially treasure maps.
Speak with Animals [2]Communicate with any form of animals. Duration = 6 turns Range = 3"
Speak with Plants [4]Communicate with any kind of plant. These will follow simple commands of the spell caster. Duration = 6 turns. Range = 3"
Commune [5]Allows three questions to be asked of a divine power. Veracity & knowledge near total. Usable only once a week.
Contact Higher Plane (5)Seek & gain knowledge from creatures of other planes. Only "yes" or "no" questions. The number of questions asked and their veracity increases chance of insanity.


The only real mechanical question here has to do with the 3" Range of Speak with Animals and Speak with Plants. If Range becomes a mechanical factor in determining level, than they each should be one spell level higher. But since none of the other spells (especially the higher level ones) seem to have any range mechanics at all, it seems reasonable to assume the 3" range of Speak with Animals and Speak with Plants simply indicates the range one would normally be able to have a conversation.

Base Spell: Read or speak a language otherwise unknown to character (fauna only). Duration = 3 rounds/caster level

The following add one level:
  • Duration = 6 turns
  • May communicate with creatures that do not have obvious means of communicating (flora, for example).
  • Targets are predisposed to do what the caster asks of them (bonus to the reation roll)
  • The following add two levels:
  • Target is from a higher plane of existance (requires communication with non-fauna creatures and a Duration = 6 turns). This comes in two forms, depending on the spell caster. Clerics get 3 questions that will be answered honestly. Magic Users get up to 12 questions, but these must be "yes" "no." In addition the caster runs the risk of not only being lied to, but of going insane. The fewer the questions, the more likely they answers are false. The more questions asked, the higher chance of insanity. Maybe used no more than once/week.
Example Spell Speak in Tongues
3rd level spell. Speak any humanoid language with a bonus to the reaction roll to every one who hears (+1 level). Duration = 6 turns (+1 level)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lost Colonies Sessions 16-18

As you might have noticed, I have not posted anything about my Lost Colonies campaign in a while. This is in part due to my own crazy schedule of late, my own laziness and due to the fact that the party has spent the better part of three sessions inside the "funhouse" dungeon I designed awhile back. After successfully placing the "red dragon" in a bag of holding, and taking care of several backlogged projects (including getting a prothetic arm made for Grak), the party rounded up an expedition of several henchmen, camels, carts and enough food and water for a deep desert exploration in search of the Eye of St. Gabriel. After successfully finding the place — three giant lion heads peaking out of the sand with mouths agape (a la Disney's Aladdin) —the party decided to go through the door in the center mouth, behind which death and mayhem awaited.

I have been very reluctant to try and give a good account of what three sessions inside a funhouse dungeon look like. Suffice it say that the party ran into and triggered quite a number of traps, encountered countless constructs and undead, got separated and lost most of their NPCs. As a Referee, I really enjoyed running the thing and it seriously challenged my players. Having run enough of these over the years, I recognize mental exhaustion when I see it. So, in place of three long-overdue posts, I'll give you some of the highlights from the last three sessions:

  • Feeding the dragon. Part of the equipment bought by the party was several sheep and goats, specifically for the purpose of giving their "pet" dragon live prey. They very carefully open the bag (an earlier attempt resulted in the near death of an NPC) and the dragon has enough room to reach out a grab a bite to eat. They carefully worked out a pattern so that everybody (including the dragon) knows what to expect.
  • Maze Madness. The characters very quickly found themselves caught inside the Minotaur Maze. One of the rooms has a arena with a pair of mechanical gladiators. Once two characters entered the room, a mechanical king and queen split the party into teams to fight along side one of these gladiators. Characters could not damage the gladiator on their own side, nor the king and queen. Once one side had won, the room would reset after the party left the room and would start all over again once two party members re-entered the room. This became hysterically funny when this aspect of the room was first discovered. Hamlen was trying to recover from having stepped in some green slime. He managed to climb up to a bridge crossing a pool of the stuff after losing one of his spiked boots, which got slimed. As the rest of the party was trying to figure out how to join him up on the bridge without likewise getting slimed, a Coffer Corpse attacked Hamlen. He clubbed it for over 6 points of damage, it "died" and he kicked it off the bridge. One round later, it revived. All but the dwarf and one NPC (neither of which had magical weapons to damage the Coffer Corpse) failed their saving throws and ran in fear — back into the arena where chaos ensued.
  • The Climactic Battle. After making their way through the Minotaur Maze, the party confronted what they believe was Xerxes. They weren't entirely certain, because he was wearing the Mask stolen from the Church in Headwaters. This minor detail, however, didn't stop the party from fighting the kind of desperate fight that happens when you run into an arch-nemesis. I love to run these kinds of battles. The energy level on the table is infectious and the ingenuity and creativity of players trying to survive an onslaught of spells and special abilities is always a wonderful thing to see. When Xerxes had survived just about everything the party could throw at him, someone remembered that they had a dragon in a bag. Everybody retreated except for Hamlen, who opened the bag in the general direction of Xerxes. Although extremely happy to have survived, the party soon discovered the downside of this particular strategy. All those magic items Xerxes was using are now in the bag with a very angry dragon who regenerates.
  • Choices, choices. The party set off a trap that allowed a rather large amount of acid to seep into various parts of the dungeon. In process of running away from this very real threat they found a room with a puzzle that promised riches or death. They knew that by the time they figured out the puzzle, the acid would block their way out. This didn't stop them from seriously considering staying and going for those riches anyway.
  • It is always a good night when players lift up their hands in triumph because they got out of a dungeon alive.
Some observations:
  • The 3.5 veterans had a hard time with this adventure. They knew in their bones how dangerous it was and it scared them (a quote I heard several times during the adventure: "We are never going underground again!") They also had a difficult time justifying why a funhouse dungeon would exist. ("Why would anybody build something like this?") Whereas some of the younger guys or the guys that are new to the hobby loved it.
  • The Minotaur Maze was far more difficult than even I imaged it would be. The players had to keep track of rations, because starvation became a very real possibility.
  • No identify spell means cursed items actually have a chance to get used.
  • It is funny how a pattern of random rolls can create a narrative that becomes true even though it was never intended to be true. The party own a magic bow that gives no bonus to hit or damage, but does allow the user to shoot twice per round. Several characters have tried to use it, but when they hit, the damage die always seems to come up 1 or 2. Thus, the characters are convinced it is cursed — and a new magic item is born.
Up next: Hamlen wants to bring a carnival to Headwaters to throw a party.

OD&D Magic Champions Style Part 7


This is the first time that I have been compelled to look at later editions. Although there have been some surprising mechanics (such as CLW taking one full turn to take effect) nothing so far has been either confusing or ambiguous. Until now, that is. Both Dispel Magic and Dispel Evil have a duration of 1 turn. I find this difficult to interpret. Is this a spell that lasts for 1 turn until one object/spell/creature is dispelled? Or can the caster dispel everything with in range for 1 whole turn? Or is the one thing that is dispelled merely dispelled for a duration of 1 turn? Both B/X and 1ed give Dispel Magic an area effect (20' or 30' cube) which acts instantly and has a permanent duration, but does not affect magic items. In other words, the intention of the spell is to instantly cancel-out a spell or spell-like effect. It is in this spirit that I will proceed. Here are the spells as written:
Knock (2)
Dispel a magically locked door. Range = 6"
Dispel Magic (3)
Dispel all magic spells and/or spell-like effects. Range = 12"
Dispel Evil (5)
Dispel evil magic and evil creatures. Area Effect = 3"r.
Antimagic Shell (6)
Shield that blocks magic in and out. Range = self Duration = 12 turns


There are several mechanics that suggest themselves:
  • Dispel Type: Knock is a very specific dispel — it cancels out one magic spell effect. Dispel Magic is general. Dispel Evil also affects summoned/extra planar creatures.
  • Area Effect: Base is none. 3"r. would be the next step.
  • Range: Self/touch would be the base. Problems arise with the different ranges of Knock and Dispel Magic. If 6" and 12" are kept as different steps, Dispel Magic should be a 4th level spell. Since the area effect of 3"r. would always include the caster, I am going to use 12" for a range step.
  • Shield: This allows for a shield that cancels out spells going both in and out.
  • Duration: Although there is only one duration given (12 turns for Antimagic Shield), if there is only one step for duration, it would leave Antimagic Shield a 5th level spell. Thus, I am going to add another step — 6 turns.

Base Dispel Spell: 1st level. Cancels out a specific spell or spell-like effect instantly and permanently. Range = touch

The following add 1 level:
  • Affects all magic.
  • Range = 12"
  • Area Affect = 3" r.
  • Duration = 6 turns
The following adds 2 levels:
  • Affects summoned creatures (a missed saving throw = banishment; save = morale check failure)
  • Duration = 12 turns
  • Creates a shield that blocks spells in and out
Example Spell Obfuscate
4th level spell. Creates a shield (+2 levels) that cancels out Detection Spells both going in and out of the shield. Range = touch. Duration = 6 turns (+1 level).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thoughts on Post-Apocalyptic RPGs

Both Jeff and James have brought up the point that D&D assumes a post-apocalyptic world with lost civilizations that have left behind wondrous and strange things to find and explore (read: dungeons). This observation has gotten a lot of us to re-examine our own campaigns and the popular campaigns of D&D past and present. What I find interesting is the way we bandy about the word apocalypse without really understanding what it means.

It is actually a Greek word — Ἀποκάλυψις — which literally means lifting of the veil. A more familiar translation is revelation. This, most probably, brings to mind the book from the Bible of the same name. Indeed, the name of the book in the original Greek is Ἀποκάλυψις. Since it deals with the end times, the modern world has come to associate the word apocalypse with a word-ending disaster.

What gets lost in this understanding is that the Bible doesn't just have one apocalypse. It has a plethora. Here are three:
  • the burning bush is an apocalypse of the name of God as I AM
  • the Incarnation is an apocalypse of God become man
  • the baptism of Christ is an apocalypse of God as Trinity

Thus, the term post-apocalypse has a nuance to it that is lost when it is merely understood to refer to what is left after a world-devastating disaster. A post-apocalyptic world is one where God has revealed Himself. This understanding of the word apocalypse can add another a level of richness of any post-apocalyptic D&D world (or any RPG that uses the same sort of end-of- the-world model).

From a Judeo-Christian world-view, the world-shattering event is the Fall. This is then expressed every time humanity turns its collective back on God. The Tower of Babel and the collapse of both the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) are examples of this. The apocalypse always takes the form of God steadfastly waiting with open arms for humanity to realize that it cannot find what it most desires without God. He has shown the depth with which He loves us and wants us to be with Him by His willingness to not only become Incarnate, but to go to the cross and tomb.

Thus, a D&D campaign can not only be about trying to rise up out of the ashes of what came before by recovering the treasures of lost civilizations, but a recovery of the apocalypse itself.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

OD&D Magic Champions Style Part 6


This project has been fascinating. It has made me reexamine some of my own assumptions and prejudices. For example, I was sure Insect Plague was a summoning spell. Upon examining the mechanics, however, I come to find that it really is a Charm spell with a summoning special effect. Ultimately, this is why I want to do this project — so that we all can have spells that reflect whatever special effect we want and still have a solid, consistent mechanical system behind those special effects. Without Insect Plague, I am left with three spells:

Animate Dead (5)
Duration = permanent until dispelled. Area Effect = 1d6 corpses Creature HD = approx. 1-6
Conjure Elemental (5)
Duration = concentration. Range = 24" Creature HD = 16
Invisible Stalker (6)
Duration = permanent until task is complete. Range = ? Creature HD = 8


This category has five discernible mechanics:
  • Duration. All are permanent, but there are two qualifiers — concentration and a given task. Thus, their are three possible durations.
  • Range. Conjure Elemental has an explicit Range of 24". The others have no range.
  • Area Effect: Animate Dead affects 1-6 corpses. There is no explicit area given here. I am going to choose to understand this a "general area" (sewer, swamp, lake, etc.)
  • Creature Type: Conjure Elemental and Invisible Stalker both conjure extra-planar creatures whereas Animate Dead is dependent upon "creatures" that are already there.
  • Creature HD. There are three categories. Animate Dead initially can summon a max of 6HD (Zombies being 1HD creatures), Invisible Stalkers are 8HD and Conjure Elemental specifies a 16HD creature. This suggests three ranges: 1-6HD, 7-12HD and 13-19HD.
Every spell assumes that the caster has control over the summoned/conjured creature. Given these mechanics, Invisible Stalker ends up as a 5th level spell and Conjure Elemental is 6th level — exactly the opposite as they appear in the LBBs; however, I am not going to quibble.

Base Conjure/Summon Spell: 2nd level spell. Summons 1 extant creature of a specific type with 1-6 (d6) HD. Duration = concentration. Range = none. Area Effect = none. Caster has control of the summoned creature.

The following add one level:
  • Duration = fulfillment of a single task (no concentration necessary).
  • Range = 24" (the creature can appear/be anywhere within 24")
  • Number of Creatures = any number totaling the HD summoned (If 3HD are summoned, the base spell summons one 3HD creature. This allows those 3HD to be divided among a number of smaller HD creatures — three 1HD creatures or six 1/2HD creatures, for example). This is a general area effect (sewer, swamp, lake, etc.).
  • Creature Type = extra planar (creature does not need to already be available)
  • Creature HD = 7-12 (d6+6) HD
The following add two levels:
  • Duration = permanent
  • Creature HD = 12-18 (d6+12) HD

Example Spell Summon Rat Swarm:
3rd Level Spell. Duration = concentration. Creature Type = Rat (1/2HD). Creature HD = d6. Creature Number = 2 per HD Summoned (+1 level). This spell requires that rats already exists in the general area.

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 . . .