Wednesday, November 11, 2020

OD&D Notes, Book 1: Men and Magic

Continuing to read OD&D.  Previously, Chainmail.
Dang this dude on the cover looks like a badass.
"Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find DUNGEONS & DRAGONS to their taste."
So that's an interesting 1974 precursor to Appendix N, which was published in 1979.

"Number of Players: At least one referee and from four to fifty players can be handled in any single campaign, but the referee to player ratio should be about 1:20 or thereabouts."
This is total number of players in your player pool, not in any single session, right?  Right?

Preparation for the campaign: "First, the referee must draw out a minimum of half a dozen maps of the levels of his 'underworld'...  When this task is completed the participants can then be allowed to make their first descent into the dungeons beneath the 'huge ruined pile, a vast castle built by generations of mad wizards and insane geniuses'".
Now there's some implicit setting that has been lost with time.

Barons earn 10 gp per inhabitant per year.  Or about 4gp/family/mo in ACKS terms, which is not totally unreasonable as net rather than gross.

The first thing written about MUs: "Top level magic-users are perhaps the most powerful characters in the game, but it is a long, hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak, so survival is often the question, unless fighters protect the low-level magical types until they have worked up"  Explicitly and up front, surviving low levels is the balancing factor on MUs.

"[Clerics] have the use of magic armor and all non-edged magic weapons".  Can they use edged non-magic weapons?  Clerics get followers when they build a stronghold; fighting men don't.  And they make twice as much gold per inhabitant of their domains per year!  Dang!

Dwarves cap at 6th level.  Wow that's low.  That's low enough that it might actually matter and make up for all the stuff they get (versus 10th-13th level for ACKS dwarves, which my campaigns rarely make it to).

An elf can choose to operate as an MU or a fighting man in any single adventure (capping at 4th level fighting man and 8th level MU), but not both.  "They may use magic armor and still act as a Magic-Users".  As with clerics - what about nonmagic armor?

Halflings cap at 4th.  "Should any player wish to play one..."

Huh even humans can change class.  A bit vague about how that works.

Referee rolls stats for each player, lol.  Which means that stat generation methods are totally up to the ref.  That would make interoperation of characters between different DMs interesting.

Whoa is this the original form of the trading down stats rule?  "Clerics can use strength on a 3 for 1 basis in their prime requisite area (wisdom), for purposes of gaining experience only."  But "use" is super ambiguous - are you reducing your strength to gain wisdom, or counting a fraction of your strength towards your wisdom?  This is sort of supported by the note in changing classes about how you need an unmodified prime req of 16+ or whatever to change to the other class.  This could've been an interesting alternative way for things to have gone, with each class computing its prime req as a linear combination of stats (eg, Fighter prime req score as 2/3 of Str plus 1/4 of Wis plus 1/12 of Int).  And then thieves could've been like 50% Str and 50% Int and we could've avoided making Dex, which was supposed to be good for everyone, a prime req for anyone!
"Players will, in all probability, seek to hire Fighting-Men, Magic-Users, and/or Clerics in order to strengthen their roles in the campaign."  So classed hirelings are also explicitly suggested.
16-17 Cha is 6 hirelings and +2 loyalty; 18 Cha is 12 hirelings and +4 loyalty.  I don't hate this - 18 Cha occurs like 1/9th as often as 16-17.

No min stats for particular classes, just earn less XP with low prime req.
Ah, the "units so indicated above may be used to increase prime requisite total insofar as this does not bring that category below average, i.e. below a score of 9" is pretty clearly talking about trading something down.  But the rate of trading is different between classes, which is still different.

Alignment languages are sort of a guessing game, because speaking Lawful to Chaotic creatures causes them to attack (and vice versa).

Oh dang and then a big section on NPCs which again mentions hiring, right after ability scores.  Only 1st level characters can be hired, costing 100gp to do so.  Nothing about being outleveled by hirelings and then having them quit as a result.  No roll to hire required except for hiring monsters and men met in dungeons.  Hired men, dwarves, and elves get a loyalty score on 3d6 when hired (with modifiers from hirer Cha), which influences their morale.  I sort of like having loyalty as a permanent stat.

Relatives and inheritance makes it sound like temporarily retiring, bringing in a new character who gets the inheritance, and then bringing the old character out of retirement with the relative as a henchmen was a fairly normal thing to do and then this rule about taxes and low loyalty if you reclaim your inheritance was added to discourage it.

Fairly complete equipment list; plenty of weapon variety, but only leather, chain, plate for armor.  Also shields and helmets - sadly I don't see effects of helmets anywhere in the rules.  I wonder if helmets are part of the difference between heavy infantry and armored infantry in Chainmail terms.  Armor is not that expensive; an average cash roll can probably afford plate, shield, melee weapon, and adventuring gear.  The real hard choice for a good cash roll might be "any two of plate, composite bow, and a 1st-level hireling".  No distinction between military oil and lamp oil, but it all costs 2gp.  Rations are per week; iron rations are explicitly for dungeons?

Encumbrance is in coins, and combat gear has weight, but fixed weight of 80 coins for misc equipment.  More complex than OSE's.  Max carryable is 3k coins at a speed of 3 inches, versus OSE capping at 1600 coins.

Oh man the layout on these class tables.  First there's a table mapping level title to XP for each class.  Then there's a table mapping level title to "dice for accumulative hits (hit dice)", fighting capability (in Chainmail terms) and spells.  Level titles are used instead of level numbers throughout the text.
These XP progressions are weird - fighters level faster than MUs up to 6th, but then continue doubling while MUs drop to between 1.5x and 2x per level.
Fighters get better at fighting every level in Chainmail terms, but the single-man combat progression is pretty close to OSE's, where you get +2ish every 3 levels as a big jump at 4th and 7th.

XP awards reduced for being in a dungeon below your level.  Not allowing characters to level twice from one adventure is only "recommended."
No level cap for humans.

Hit dice seem to be all d6s, from the example.  It also seems like they might be rerolled on level?  It's weird that fighters go from 9+3 to 10+1 at 10th level, you could end up losing HP even if you weren't re-rolling.  Not clear.

Wizards getting d6 HD sounds pretty great for them.

"A spell used once may not be reused in the same day", but spell limits are "remembered during any single adventure."  So that would be an interesting variant - vancian, you prepare all of your spells before the adventure, no more than one copy of any given spell, but you get them all back each day.  This seems like it would work well in wilderness adventuring; you have to balance your spell selection between wilderness spells and dungeon spells, rather than getting to the dungeon's door, camping, and switching all of your spells over to dungeon stuff.  It also means that you can't just spam fireball or sleep multiple times per day each - it would definitely push wizards to play with a broader selection of spells rather than leaning on just a couple of powerhouses.  It would also make having both fireball and lightning bolt very worthwhile.  This might also have interesting effects on the balance of MUs in mass combat - a lot of ACKS' magic changes were to limit MUs in mass combat, so that conventional armies would still be viable, but if there are only a small set of mass combat powerhouse spells and you can only use each once per day, the strength of MUs in pitched battles should not be so great.  They're still very strong with fabian strategy, though.
I could see something like this working even with ACKS' repertoire - it's basically just adding the constraint that you can't cast the same spell more than once per day.

Spell level is "complexity", which is what it was called in Chainmail.  Chainmail has seers, magicians, warlocks, sorcerers, and wizards, which are the 2nd, 6th, 8th, 9th, and 11th level titles here.

OK here's the descending AC, with plate+shield as AC2 and no armor or shield as AC9.  All attacks do d6 damage, and normal men fight as 1st-level fighters (this might be the first use of "fighter" in the text rather than fighting man).

On a successful save, "poison scoring one-half of the total possible hit damage and dragon’s breath scoring one-half of its full damage".  So not save-or-die poison!?
Evil clerics get no turning analog - "the entire effect being lost."  It's unclear if clerics have to actually take an action to turn - "the strong effect of various clerical levels upon the undead" could well be interpreted to be just their presence.

Only 8 1st level MU spells; 10 2nd level, 12+ for all later levels.
MU spells:
Read Languages is called out as being for treasure maps.
Charm Person lasts until dispelled.
Sleep HD are different; it's stronger here against 2HD creatures than I'm used to. 
Locate Object calls out using it to find stairs upward, gives direction but not distance.
Wizard Lock can be bypassed automatically by high-level wizards without them needing to cast a spell.
ESP called out as detecting the thoughts "of whatever lurks behind doors and in the darkness".  So I guess that's the intent of spells being blocked by so many inches of stone or lead or whatever - to make them work through doors and into darkness, but not through walls.
Hold Person is multi-target!?
Dispel Magic references countering, so that must still be in here somewhere (or just by reference to Chainmail, I guess).  I was worried that Dispel Magic would replace counterspelling completely, as it does in later editions.  Dispel Magic seems to favor the dispeller more than in later editions (5th level MU dispelling spell by 10th level MU has 50% success chance, vs eg ~25% success chance in 3.x).
Clairvoyance and Clairaudience refer to ESP, they're like upgraded versions of it that include senses in addition to thoughts.
Fireball expands to volume (but radius is specified in inches, and I still don't have a clear picture of the ground-scale).  Likewise Lightning Bolt bounces back (but not randomly, just directly at the caster).
Infravision range is random?  Also spell description is repeated.
Haste and Slow mention countering each other, no description of effects so presumably per Chainmail.
Remove Curse can remove curses from items!?
Wall of Fire is concentration, not good for covering retreats (I guess this was true in OSE as well).
Confusion takes a random amount of time to kick in.

Topless "amazon" (with both mazons) in the middle of the spell descriptions.  Can't say I expected that.

Conjure Elemental: "Only one of each type can be conjured by a Magic-User during any one day".  Well so much for "no casting the same spell twice in one day" hypothesis.
Telekinesis weight limit is rather low, 200 coins per caster level.  Is it for carrying loot?  I guess at 9th level that would be 1800 coins which would be a person with no gear?
Feeblemind only works against MUs.  A nice change from 3.x feeblemind, which got used to disable fighters because their will saves were low.
Reincarnation - did the reincarnation table evolve from the Chainmail table of creatures by alignment, which was just used to indicate 'factions'?
Control Weather just lets you make one change; I wonder if this was intended to interact with the Chainmail weather state machine.

Cleric spells:
Cure Light Wounds spreads its healing over a full turn - not a combat heal.
Bless: +1 to attack dice is probably a bigger deal in Chainmail than on a d20.

The elf art on page 32 has a huge beard.  Wat.

Neutralize Poison has a duration.  How does that work?  Does the poison regain potence when the duration expires?
Raise Dead may fail on characters of low Con, and all raised characters need two weeks' bed rest.
Insect Plague causes low HD units to rout.  That's a neat tie-in to mass combat and probably a reasonable effect for insect plague.

Notably absent: Magic Missile (!), Web (!), Cone of Cold, Silence 15' radius (!).  Fireball and Lightning Bolt are the only two d6/level spells and they are hazardous to use indoors.

Magic research success chance is a function of gold invested rather than level or stats.  Copying spellbooks is very expensive.


  1. From my 70's wargaming campaign viewpoint 20 players in a campaign would be 20 competing power groups not a party of 20 players. That said I never saw it played that way but it would be perfectly logical and in keeping with many other campaigns at that time. I did see parties of 15 or more adventure on a regular basis is the local gaming population allowed it.
    Neutralise poison was a temporary band aid to get you out of danger not a cure.

    1. Number of players makes sense; it was mostly a rhetorical question.

      Could you elaborate on how poison was played in practice? I'm quite curious - the section on saving throws mentions poison doing damage and none of the monster entries with poison specify its effects. And then if neutralize delays it, that means it must not have been immediate save-or-die at least (and there must have been some other means to fully treat it?).

    2. FWIW, we always played poison as Save or Die. The save for half was the poison doing half your total HP, though truthfully I think we mostly ignored that and treated it as if you saved you took no damage.