Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Notes on OD&D - Part 19

Continuing on the journey through OD&D ... Men & Magic - The Spells List ...

Men & Magic
  • p25 - 26 - Explanation of Spells - 3rd Level
Fly: this spell allows the user to fly at a speed of 12" (12x30 = 360 feet) / turn.  The spell lasts for the number of turns equal to the level of the Magic-User plus the 1d6 turns, which the GM rolls secretly.

Pretty straight forward.  This is not a long range flying spell.  It is clearly designed to allow the MU to fly around the battle field to gain position for further attacks, or escape a relatively short distance away.  Maximum flying range for a 20th Level Wizard who rolls a 6 would be about 1.7 miles in 26 turns, or roughly 26 minutes (see 'Hold Person' below).  Not bad.  Of course it is probably used more for leaping from hill top to hill top when monsters or fighter brigades get too close so that further spells can be fired from another direction.  There is no limit on the number of times per day this could be cast, so one assumes the Magic-User can use Fly with great effectiveness. 

I rate this Spell 4 Stars (out of 5) for Usefulness.

Hold Person: A spell similar to a Charm Person, but which is of both limited duration and greater effect.  It will effect from 1 to 4 persons.  If it is cast at only a single person it has the effect of reducing the target's saving throw against magic by -2.  Duration: 1 turn.  Range: 12" (360').

Ok, this one seems like it must have a very different intended purpose than Charm Person.  The limit of 1 turn means you get basically one action with your new minions and then they revert back to their normal selves.  Um ... does this strike anyone else as a huge let down?  What can you do with 1 to 4 enthralled persons in 1 turn?  That's not a lot of time.  Even telling them to go away would only last for 1 turn and then they could come back.  Or ... actually, how much time is a "turn" in OD&D, anyway?  Well, so far as I can see "Turn" is not defined in my Men & Magic book at all.  I believe we have to resort to Chainmail rules, of which OD&D is really a supplemental extension, so that makes sense.  As it happens in Chainmail on p. 8 it says "a turn is roughly one minute of time in battle."  Ok, so you have these guys, for about 1 minutes.  Still. not a lot of time.  Maybe you can have them fight each other and ... well, maybe all four will kill one another in 1 turn.  Nah.  I'm not seeing it. 

Also, the rule does not tell us if each of the targets are to be rolled individually, or all as a group.  That's important.  If as a group then what is the Saving Throw for them as a group?  The average among them?  If not as a group then you might 'get' one or two, and miss the other two.  What then? 

This is a pretty messy, and poorly defined Spell that seems to have extremely limited usefulness in my book.  I'm going to say this is in fact a pretty sucky Spell overall, and even problematic in that it's poorly defined as well.

Lastly, Charm Person seems a far, far better Spell, lasts indefinitely, and is a lower level spell meaning more easily obtained.  Yeah... I think I'll just take Charm Persona and forget this one.  It's a waste.  If you are going to make a higher level version of a spell, you should probably consider making it better than the low level one.  This one tried with increasing the number of targets but then totally flopped on the duration (and lack of definition).  Oh well.

I rate this Spell a 1 Star for Uselessness.

Dispell Magic: Unless countered, this spell will be effective in dispelling enchantments of most kinds (referee's option), except those on magical items and the like.  This is modified by the following formula.  The success of a Dispell Magic spell is a ratio of the dispeller over the original spell caster, so if a 5th level MU attempts to dispell a spell of a 10th level MU there is a 50% chance of success.  Duration: 1 turn.  Range 12"

Ok,sounds pretty useful.  But it has a lot of caveats embedded in the rule, doesn't it?  I mean "unless countered" ... what does that mean?  After, isn't Dispell Magic supposed to be a counter spell itself?  Is there a Dispell Dispell Magic out there that can counter a Dispell Magic?  Huh?  What can counter it?  Who knows?  Also it's effective against "most" enchantments.  But by what criteria?  None.  Just "whatever the GM decides".  As a GM, I'm ok with that, but as a Player, I'm pretty sure that kind of rule is going to leave me pretty nervous about relying on this Spell.  I mean what if we're at Sleeping Beauty's bedside, having left Prince Charming huffing and puffing his way up the long stair case while the MU levitates to the window, and ... nope.  The GM decides it doesn't work against a Sleeping Enchantment.  Ok, as if that's not enough caveat, it won't work against magical items "and the like".  What's considered "the like" of magic items?  Magic doors?  Um ... I don't know.  And I suspect the GM won't know either.  No one will know.  It's left up in the air three different ways from Sunday. I think I'm not so crazy about this spell because the caveats are too broad and ill defined.  I have no idea if it will work or not in any given situation.  I'm out.

But in addition, as if all of that isn't bad enough ... it has a Duration of 1 turn??  What does that mean?  So I can disenchant something, but it only lasts for one minutes and then the enchantment comes back?  Sorry Sleeping Beauty but we have roughly one minute to make our nuptial plans and grab a kiss before you ... oh darn, too late.  Good night, honey.  Grrrr...

It does have a nice range of 12" (360') though, so that's a plus.  But with the caveats and the Duration limitation... Yeah.  I'm not impressed.  On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that in those cases where you have need of a Dispell Magic, if the GM lets you use it, and you can do whatever you need to do in 1 minute and it's all good ... yeah ok in those cases it's probably like "dang I'm glad I got this thing".  Other than that, not so much.  I'm really not going to want to take this Spell unless I have pretty much every other Spell first... except for Hold Person, which is even more uselesser.

I rate this Spell 2 Stars for Usefulness.

Clairvoyance: Same as ESP spell except the spell user can visualize rather than merely pick up thoughts.

Um ... not that impressed with this one either.  It's not that much of a better spell than ESP, as visualizing means ... what?  I can see the person's thoughts as a picture?  Is that really so much better than being able to pick up their thoughts?  Not really, unless the thoughts they are having happen to be about a Map to the treasure, or how to disable a cunning trap at the door.  Conversely, maybe it means that you can kind of see through the target's mind and see what they see.  That might be handy.  But based on the description, I'm not sure.  Visualization is a kind of imprecise word in this context.  I think I'll keep ESP and let this one go.  Note that it has the same Duration of 12 turns and Range of 6" (180') as ESP, and can penetrate rock of up to 60' unless it is lead lined.

I rate this Spell 2 Stars for Usefulness.

Clairaudience: Same as Clairvoyance except it allows hearing rather than visualization.  This is one of the few spells which can be cast through a crystal ball.

Ahhh... one of the few spells that can be cast through a crystal ball.  I assume that Clairvoyance doesn't allow, but Clairaudience does.  Maybe because with a Crystal Ball you already have the Clairvoyance aspect baked in.  So with this and a Crystal Ball you get both.  Yeah, I could see that making sense.  As a spy tool this isn't bad.  And while you're waiting around for the Crystal Ball to fall into your lap, you can still use Clairaudience to listen in on your foes just the same.  Yeah, ok.  I think this might be handy, provided you can understand what your target is saying.  Note that it has the same Duration of 12 turns and Range of 6" (180') as ESP, and can penetrate rock of up to 60' unless it is lead lined.  Overall, I think this is more useful than Clairvoyance as it's better to hear what your opponents are saying, I guess, than it is to see them talking but not understand anything they say.  Well, maybe not in all cases (like the room is full of skeletons, but the two necromancers are just talking about what brand of coffee is better), but I'm gong to go with that as a general rule of thumb.

I rate this Spell a 3 Stars for Usefulness.

Fire Ball:  A missile which springs from the finger of the Magic User.  It explodes with a burst radius of 2" (60') (slightly larger than specified in Chainmail). In a confined space the Fire Ball will generally conform to the shape of the space (elongate or whatever).  The damage caused by teh missile will be in proportion to the level of the its user.  A 6th level MU throws a 6-die missile, a 7th a 7-die missile, and so on.  (Note that Fire Balls from Scrolls (see Volume II) and Wand are 6-die missiles and those from stalves are 8-die missiles.  Duration: 1 turn.  Range: 24" (360').

OK!  Now THAT's a Spell!  If you're into offensive combat magic, and OD&D is really very heavily focused on combat (you are playing a wargame after all), then this is clearly the first Mega-Spell in the list.  I'd go for it.

I rate this Spell 5 Stars for Usefulness.

Lightning Bolt: Utterance of this spell generates a lightning bolt 6" (180') long and up to 3/4" (22.5') wide.  If the space is not long enough to allow it's full extension, the missile will double back to attain 6", possibly striking its creator.  It is otherwise similar to Fire Ball, but as stated in Chainmail the head of the missile may never extend beyond the 24" range.

Not sure how I feel about this one to be honest.  It has the same damage as Fire Ball, but seems to include some caveats that make it's use not only risky but potentially disastrous.  Also I don't understand the last instruction at all.  The range is 6"... so how could it possibly extend 24"?  Confusing.  Seems to me you don't want this spell for dungeoneering, though down particularly long corridors it would be useful.  But in any normal sized room or corridor it's useless.  You certainly will wipe out you and your party if you use it in a 20'x20' room.   I'd say it's problematic.  But then again, so is Fire Ball indoors, however, there is no specific rule that suggests as much. 

I'd rate this Spell 4 Stars for Usefulness.

Protection from Evil, 10' Radius: A Protection from Evil Spell which extends to include a circle around the Magic-User and also lasts for 12 rather than 6 turns.

Ok, that's a solid upgrade without caveat-hell.  Good.  I'll take it.

I rate this Spell 5 Stars for Usefulness.

Invisibility, 10" Radius:  An Invisibility spell with an extended projection but otherwise no different from the former spell.

Yup.  Again, a solid upgrade without caveat-hell.  Much more useful as you can conceal your whole party under it if need be.  In fact I would have made this a 4th Level spell, myself.   The only weirdness is the 10" rather than 10' radius.  Is that a typo?  Protection from Evil has a 10' radius (or is that the typo?).  10" radius would be 300 feet.  That's more like being able to turn an entire brigade invisible.  Then again, that may be perfectly reasonable in a Wargame where pieces in fact represent Military Units rather than individual Characters.  I suspect there was, however, some confusion here, and one or the other is a typo.  I'm going to go with the Radius is 10 feet.  So a tight nit party can huddle and scramble under a concealing cloak of invisibility, rather than a whole battalion.  Either that or Protection from Evil covers 300 feet ...  or ... maybe its not a typo and each one is in fact set up this way for specific reasons given the nature of the game.  Not sure. 

In this case I'm going to go with the assumption the Radius is 300' as that is what the rule actually says.  Wow!  That's incredible.  I would, however, in that case, definitely make this a 4th level spell, at least.

I'd rate this Spell 5 Stars for Usefulness.

Infravision: This spell allows the recipient to see infra-red light waves, thus enabling him to see in total darkness.  Duration: 1 day.  Range of Infravision: 40 - 60'.

Ok, this is solid.  The duration being a day is also a major plus.

I'd rate this Spell 4 Stars for Usefulness.

Slow Spell:  A broad area spell which effects up to 24 creatures in a maximum area of 6" x 12" (180' x 360').  Duration: 3 turns.  Range 24" (720').

Um... the rule is way too vague.  What does Slow do, exactly?  Half the speed?  Cause the targets to get only 1 attack for every two turns?  Um ... what?   Also, how is it rolled?  Does every creature get it's own Saving Throw?  Or is there a collective Saving Throw?  Also, what happens when some of the creatures are unaffected ... such as they make their Saving Throw or there's 30 creatures in the target area.  Also, what happens when a creature leaves the target area?  Do they restore normal speed?  Sorry, but this is too vague.  Maybe the rule is in Chainmail.  AHA!  It is.  "Cases up to 20 figures to move half speed for 2 turns".  Right, ok, well that is clear at least.  But as defined here in OD&D, this spell is kind of vague.  Anyway, I'm going to go with the Chainmail rule.  It only slows movement, not attacks.

I rate this Spell 3 Stars for Usefulness.

Haste Spell: This is exactly the opposite of a Slow Spell in effect, but otherwise like it.  Note that it will counter it's opposite and vice versa.

Ok, just as vague, but in Chainmail it also says that it doubles movement for 3 turns.  So I'll go with that.

I rate this Spell 3 Stars for Usefulness.

Protection from Normal Missiles:  The recipient of this charm becomes impervious to normal missiles.  This implies only those missiles projected by normal (not above normal) men and/or weapons.  Duration: 12 turns.  Range: 3" (90')

Right. Not bad.  There's plenty of foes that use normal missiles out there.  I'd take it. 

I rate this Spell 4 Stars for Usefulness.

Water Breathing:  A spell whereby it is possible to breath under water without harm or difficulty.  Duration: 12 turns.  Range: 3" (90').

Um... the duration seems a bit short to me, but still... not bad.  You can swim pretty far under water in 12 minutes, I guess... unless weighed down by armor.  Someone in full Plate will only be able to shuffle along the bottom, but even so, 12 minutes is a solid amount of time for shuffling along.  I'd still say it's good - under the right circumstances.  At least it doesn't have any crazy making caveats.

I rate this Spell 3 Stars for Usefulness.

Ok, and that's it for OD&D 3rd Level Spells.  There's a bunch in there that I think are total losers, but there's enough seriously cool stuff to make it worth achieving 3rd Level for. 

Overall, I'd say that it goes to show that defining spells is tricky business, and the 2nd pass of OD&D (Chainmail was the 1st pass) was more or less on the right track in many cases, obviously, but there's still plenty of flaws.  Mostly I don't think they worked out well enough what defines the properties of a Spell so that it could be consistently defined, in game terms, and I think they were a little too cavalier about their definitions here and there.  Still though, ... I'm going with "Not bad".   There's problems, but if the Referee defines the gaps before hand, then it's probably going to be fine.  That said, I suspect there were plenty of cases along the way where the vagueness of the rule caused more than one party to feel utterly cheated by a spell that the GM caveated into useless-mode.  But such is life. This kind of thing happens in any game where there is a referee.  Get used to it, soldier and carry on.

Next up:  4th Level Spells.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Midnight Journey To Balance Rock

My midnight journey to Balance Rock ... some pictures ... the story is strange, and perhaps too strange to relate just now ... but here are the photographs ...
I don't really know why I decided to go to North Salem, New York, tonight, Christmas Eve, under a full moon, to find and examine a little known and very ancient artifact named Balance Rock. I will not mention everything that happened. I will say, it was strange, exhilarating and also at times a little bit frightening. I felt I had to go. Tonight. Let's just say that I felt The Call for Adventure, and at 11pm got in my car and started driving North. The trip takes about 40 minutes or so.

Things got off to a rocky start as I got in my car with just enough time to get there by midnight... and realized that I was actually really hungry. I had eaten a light dinner hours before, and I should probably have had a snack before I left. But I was in a rush to get there by midnight, and was running a little late. I ran out and started driving. I figured there would be a place along the way, a gas station even, to get a bite to eat. There wasn't.

As I was driving I noticed that other drivers were doing the manic thing more than usual. At one point I found myself almost driving off the side of 684 during a merge by another driver who not only side saddled up to me on the left, but then refused to either speed up or slow down while the left lane vanished for the merge. That was not the only incident like that on the way up there, but that one was the most memorable. I wondered if there were forces as work, perhaps, that did not want me to make it to my destination. It was a stray thought. I didn't believe it. But the thought did occur.

The reason why is because I was about to do something odd. I was going to find the only Dolmen in North America. At midnight. On Christmas Eve. Under the Full Moon. Why is there a Dolmen in New York? Who put it there? And more importantly, why did they put it there? And how long ago?

Scientists concluded that Balance Rock is a case of errata from the Ice Age, and that by chance the 60 ton boulder nestled itself on top of five standing stones, and then sat there just like that for the next several hundred thousand years or so. Good call. The fact that there are Dolmen in Europe, in fact all over the world, that have multi-ton stones sitting exactly the same way on top of standing stones in exactly this fashion did not phase the scientists for one second. And so that's the official story. Because, well, nothing else makes sense. So that must be how Balance Rock got there. Right?

Well, count me among those who are a tiny bit more open minded than that, and are willing to look at the evidence of other Dolmens around the world, and extrapolate that if the Celts could do it there, then heck, maybe somehow or other a handful of them managed to make their way over here and do the same.

Now that would have been a long time ago. Very long indeed. At least a thousand years ago, maybe two. And possibly longer. Again, as I was driving, the question came to mind - why? We don't really know what the purpose of the Dolmen were. There's no record of that. They just sit there, silent and enigmatic sentinels of prehistory.

I thought, "I bet it will be foggy when I get there," and a chill went down the back of my neck. I sighed and figured it would be best not to think to hard about it, and just go. I drove a little faster. Finally google maps informed me it was time to turn off 684 and head into the wild country. At this point I was thinking about my game world Elthos, and making up rhymes for some of the Kobolds. They love riddles and rhymes and it helped to pass the time, rather than thinking too hard about what might lay ahead. Even so, thoughts of where I was heading crowded in, and I wondered what I would find there. Would I even find the stone at all?

When I turned off the Interstate, the road turned into a narrow windy two lane highway skirting along what at first I took to be a mist shrouded valley with dark hills on the far side, but then realized was a lake covered in fog. The road became foggy. Intensely foggy. I had to slow down to a crawl. I thought it reminiscent of that scene in so many horror movies where the dumb kid went driving into the haunted landscape unwittingly heading into the gaping maws of death. Another chill moment along the way. I won't go into how I steeled myself for what I felt might lay ahead. But the thoughts I had to steel myself against were of a rather frightening nature. I imagined that it is possible that this ancient thing was some kind of artifact from the dawn of time ... perhaps a chthonic horror was buried therein. My imagination began to run away with thoughts of ancient beings from beyond the stars... I don't know why those ideas came to my mind, but they required steeling against.

But my mind was wandering at this point. Another thought occurred to me that in the fog along this narrow highway in the moonlight I was bound to pass a hitch hiker. I don't know why I thought that. Just came to me. I spent the next five miles trying to decide if I should pick up the hitchhiker or not. I felt for sure there would be one.

In fact, I supposed that such an ancient site, one of such reputed power ... oh, I didn't mention the reputed power yet, did I? Ah. Ok. Yes, well there are those who say that the 60 ton stone on top is a gigantic crystaline form of red or pink granite on top of six quartzite standing stones. The pressure on the lower stones causes a compression which generates Piezoelectricity, and it is said, magnetic waves. Thus, it is said, this artifact from the dark recesses of ancient times is a power source of some kind. A spiritual power source.

So this was also running through my mind. And I didn't think it too far fetched to suppose that others might also think of coming out this way on such an auspicious occasion as the full moon Christmas Eve at midnight. A coven perhaps? A cult of some kind? A troop of flute bearing hippies from the days of yore, perhaps? Who knows? I figured I should be prepared for any contingency. And so, it seemed not entirely outlandish to consider that someone of this ilk might be hitchhiking on their way there. Certainly it's possible, I reasoned.

No. No one was. I found the cross roads. I realized I passed the site in the fog. I turned the car around and went back. I almost passed it again, but out of the corner of my eye I caught the huge bulk of stone hovering over the collection of tiny standing stones. No one was there. I parked in front of the barn. And took a picture by the light of my car's headlights. It was eerie.

I stopped the car and turned off my headlights. The air was brisk, but the fog was lifted. I looked at the stone. Sure enough it looked just as it did in the pictures. But by the moonlight it seemed oddly eerie. I felt a third chill. I wondered if I should get back in my car. I felt scared for some reason, though nothing was there to frighten me. It was silent. There was not even a wind in the trees. I steeled myself again. After all, if you're going to come out on an Adventure of this kind, you have to go through with it - even if your brain is jumping like a cat and you feel a big-ass chill go down your spine. I knew if I went back into my car I would get scared to death, and have to leave, and be totally defeated by my own ridiculous imagination (perhaps). So I simply summoned up my courage, pushed the fear aside and went over to make a scientific examination of the stone from all sides, and take some photographs. Which I did. I even got one with both the stone and the full moon in it.

After walking around it several times, I noticed something odd by the light of my tiny keychain flashlight. There was an inscription on the side of the stone. It was engraved about a quarter inch deep. I'd heard about this inscription before when I first found about that Balance Rock existed around two weeks ago. There's letters, like someone's initials, "C W D" and under it the year. 1862, and below that a date. April 9. Next to it was another similar inscription of the same kind, and from the same date but with different letters "M T H". This one was harder to read. Further to the right was another engraving, but this one was much fainter than the others, and I could only make out that it was there at all when I happened to move my flashlight to the side of the rock and caught the shadow of the letters. There was a "B" and the others were too faint to read. I suspect they were not created at the same time, and were perhaps a lot older as the lichen seemed to cover them evenly.

I continued to circle the rock. I was tempted to touch it, but refrained. I'm not sure why. At the time I certainly couldn't think of any valid reason not to touch it. But I was, quite frankly, afraid to touch it. Later I realized it was because the entire rock was so massive, so improbable, so enigmatic and so ... powerful ... well, I simply felt that to touch it was to invite some sort of potential disaster. I wasn't willing.

I found five stones in the ground in a line right before Balance Rock, and I puzzled over what they could be for. Finally I decided they indicated a spot to stand, so I stood there and looked at the stone. I think I was waiting for something to "happen". But nothing happened. Until as I was gazing at the stone in the moonlight I realized that it had a distinct shape of a lion's head. Or rather a sort of lion. There was definitely an eye, and a mouth, and the shape of the forehead and nose were certainly lion-like. But the rest of the stone was far too oblong, and I noticed that along the ear-line was a waving line that looked like it might have represented hair. It was a very strange feeling to notice that and be standing there alone in the dark just after midnight. In my mind I felt like I discovered something. The head seemed to be gazing off into the distance with a mild and serene expression. I looked that way, but the only thing I could see to take notice of was a bright star, I know not which one.

"Are you alive?" I found my mind asking the stone. There was no answer, but the serene face I was staring at left me with the feeling that no answer was required. It simply stared into the infinite, and I suddenly had the feeling of being ever so vanishingly minuscule. I continued to look. Nothing happened. I walked around the rock again. This time something on the side of the rock flashed. I thought it was a crystal side of the rock perhaps, reflecting the moonlight, but in fact someone had placed a quarter on the stone along a crack. I was tempted to take it. I refrained. I wasn't there to change anything, only to observe.

I looked under the stone and made a careful study of the standing stones. They were pink in color. Some of them touched the under part of the upper stone, but several didn't quite. The ground underneath was flattened, and a bit rocky, but mostly dirt. One could lie down under the stone. I didn't dare. Somehow, overall, I decided that to touch the stone, or climb under it, or do anything like that would be ... well, disrespectful somehow. So I didn't do any of those things. I walked back to the five line stones and stood there again observing the lion face. I thought to it that perhaps we could be friends. Although I had nothing of value to offer, except perhaps that we might trade knowledge? Nothing happened. Just the serene staring into the vastness of space. I looked around and noticed that Balance Rock is in something of a little vale. I wondered why. What is the purpose of its position here? Most Dolmen, like Stonehenge, have peculiar alignments with the sun, moon and stars, and often are positioned in very specific ways to catch certain stars on specific days. I wondered what the alignment for Balance Rock was and whether or not the nearby hill was a sighting point for it. Perhaps the best time to go there is at sunrise on the solstice and see.

After another walk around the stone, this time offering my right arm up for healing (I've had a mild case of tendinitis since the summer), and nothing happening I walked over to the side where my car is. I had a thought. I don't remember what that thought was, actually. But at that moment I noticed a dog was barking. It was about 12:20am. The barking went on and on. Then another dog was barking about a half mile away, maybe, in another direction. Another chill went down my spine. I wondered if the dog was sensing some energy from the stone then. Of course it was more likely that it smelled a coyote, or racoon, but I'm only saying that this is what my thought process was, not that they thoughts made sense.

Then, for no reason, I thought that someone, or something, may be coming toward the stone. I suddenly felt scared. Like really scared. The dogs had been barking for five minutes by then, maybe. Their sound was echoing off the hills so I wasn't sure if there were more than two or not. The fog had come up again. I didn't want to stick around and find out what might be coming. I was standing next to my car door.

Instead of getting into my car, I decided to wait and see what might come. I felt that it was important for me to do that. I guess I had the idea that if I had come all that way on such a night as this, and had in the process awoken something or summoned something in the process, that it was up to me to meet it. If I had to wage a war against some evil thing, I should be willing to do so. Right? I mean, why go all that way, and then turn tail and scamper off at the first hint of evil? So, one more time I steeled myself for ... whatever might happen. And ... nothing happened. I waited. The dogs kept barking.
Finally, I got in my car. I decided it was time to go home. As I drove away I felt that something had happened out there. But I am really not at all sure what it was. I do know that my ride home felt more stable, and more ... sure. I felt I had actually accomplished something. But what it was, I can not say.

I guess the upshot of the story is that sometimes I simply go on the Adventure for it's own sake. Not because I've got a reward in mind ... but just to challenge myself to go at least one step beyond the ordinary ... to escape the mundane world for a while ... and hopefully return just a little bit stronger than when I left.

And I think it goes without saying, but I will say it anyway, ... such adventures ... are they not food enough for my World of Elthos? Indeed. Indeed.


I was curious and did a bit more poking around. I found this interesting video.

Also, it seems there is actually another Dolmen in New Jersey called Tripod Rock.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Notes on OD&D - Part 18

Continuing on the journey through OD&D ... Men & Magic - The Spells List ...

Men & Magic 

  • p23 - 25 - Explanation of Spells - 2nd Level
Detect Invisible (Objects): A spell to find secreted treasure hidden by an invisibility spell.  It will also locate invisible creatures.  Duration: 6 turns.  Range: 1" x the level of the Magic-User casting it.

There isn't much to say about this spell, I suppose, except that I would imagine its usefulness is rather limited, given that there are not that many invisible creatures lurking about.  I suspect that invisible treasures were not that common either.  It's limited duration and range add to my sense that this spell is leaning towards the relatively useless side.  On the other hand, on those rare occasions where it may come in handy, I suspect it's utility suddenly skyrockets.  Rare to use, but when needed is extremely helpful.

I rate this Spell 2 Stars (out of 5) for usefulness.

Levitate: this spell lifts the caster, all motion being in the vertical plane.  However, the user could, for example, levitate to the ceiling, and move horizontally by the use of his hands.  Duration: 6 Turns + the level of the user.  Range (of levitation): 2" / level of Magic-User, with upwards motion of 6" / turn.

Another spell that is only somewhat useful under the right circumstances.  If one were strapped in a room that was filled with poison snakes and there is a grate on the ceiling that might do, so long as the ceiling were not too high.  But this kind of necessity is not really what I think of as common, at least in my experience.   More of a parlor trick than a useful bit of magic, perhaps - except under some rare circumstances.  It's limited duration and range also serve to make me feel it's not a spell I would relish selecting off the top.

I rate this Spell 2 Stars for usefulness.

Phantasmal Forces:  The creation of vivid illusions of nearly anything the user envisions (a projected mental image so to speak).  As long as the caster concentrates on the spell, the illusion will continue unless touched by some living creature, so there is no limit on duration, per se.  Damage caused to viewers of a Phantasmal Force will be real if the illusion is believed to be real.  Range: 24".

Ok!  Now THAT's a serious piece of arcane fire-power there!  At first glance it suggests that it's a nearly unconquerable death knell ... for by the wording it sounds like our dear Magic-User could create a vision of a rather enormous stone and simply drop it on those who fall victim to it.  Of course success requires that the recipient miss their saving throw.  On the other hand a blue poison gas might serve just as well to clear a half a room at a shot.  The range is huge.  That means coverage area is huge.  Blazing fire, maybe?  A swarm of deadly giant wasps?  The spell is only limited by the imagination of the caster.  Well, well, well... a clever soul could do a lot with this spell.  And not just limited to damage inducing visions, either.  One could create a duplicate of someone else, the King perhaps. A lot of interesting things can be done with this kind of thing.  Of course one would have to be clever enough to use it well but this seems like the total Swiss army knife of spells.

On the other hand there's a caveat.  That pesky touch-it-and-it-goes-away thing.  What's that about?  Would the stone falling "touch" the person and then disappear because it touched them.  I don't think so.  It says that some creature has to touch the illusion.  But not that the illusion will disappear if it touches a person.  Subtle distinction.  Yet, how else could it do damage?  Hmmm... I suppose there is just enough wiggle room here to suggest that maybe this spell is going to wind up being curtailed in ways my Magic-User will be disappointed with.  On the other hand, for a 2nd Level spell of this magnitude and versatility I don't see how I can complain.  Based on a strict reading of the rules on Phantasmal Forces, I'm going to say that it may well be the most powerful spell of them all.  Why cast a Fireball with a burst radius of 2" when you can cast a Phantasmal Fire-Storm of 24"?  Hah!

I rate this Spell 5 Stars for usefulness.

Locate Object: IN order for this spell to be effective it must be cast with ceretain knowledge of what is to be located.  Thus, the exact nature, dimensions, coloring, etc. of some magical item would have to be known in order for the spell to work.  Well known objects such as a flight of stairs leading upwards can be detected with this spell however.  The spell gives the user the direction of the object desired but not the distance. The desired object must be within range.  Range: 6" + 1" / Level of the Magic-User employing the spell, i.e. a "Necromancer" has a 16" range.

This spell is versatile enough to come in handy in a wide variety of situations, and though the range is kind of short for low level Magic-Users, it is still nevertheless probably proves pretty useful more than a few times during the course of a campaign.

I rate this Spell 3 Stars for usefulness.

Invisibility: A spell which lasts until it is broken by the user or by some outside force (remember that as in Chainmail, a character cannot remain invisible and attack).  It affects only the person or thing upon whom or which it is cast.  Range: 24".

Yup.  I can see that being hecka-useful for anyone trying to slink around and hide, or hide something of value.  Escaping the scene of a crime?  Fleeing the Kingdom?  Hiding out in a dungeon waiting for some fool goblin to open the secret door?  Yup, Yup and Yup.  This is a useful spell.  And the best thing is that you can cast it on someone or something from all the way across the road.  24" is equal to 720 feet.  Yup.  Niiiiice.

I rate this Spell 4 Stars for usefulness.

Wizard Lock: Similar to Hold Portal, this spell lasts indefinitely.  It can be opened by a Knock (spell) without breaking the spell.  A Wizard Lock can be passed through without a spell of any kind by a Magic-User three levels above the one who placed the spell.

Hmm... yeah, ok.  That's an upgrade to Hold Portal, and with the caveats it's really not that much better.  It is permanent, but with all those ways of breaking through... meh.  Not so impressed.

I rate this Spell a 1 Star for usefulness.

Detect Evil:  A spell to detect evil thought or intent in any creature or evilly enchanted object. Note that poison, for example, is neither good nor evil.  Duration: 2 Turns.  Range: 6".

The short duration and limited range normally would make me say this is not worth the ticket price ... but being able to detect intent and evil objects makes it pretty darn helpful in a world where evil is likely to be lurking all over the place.  Since the range is 180 feet it would be quite helpful, for example, in knowing if there are monsters way up the corridor beyond the range of your torch light.  Through walls, even.  In fact you could get a kind of radar sense all around you in a 180 foot sphere of bad guys.  Yup... I am going to go ahead and say that this is a solid spell to have in your toolkit.

I rate this Spell 4 Stars for usefulness.

ESP: A spell which allows the user to detect the thoughts (if any) of whatever lurks beyond doors or in the darkness.  It can penetrate solid rock up to about 2' in thickness, but a thin coating of lead will prevent its penetration.  Duration: 12 turns.  Range: 6".

Oh my.  This is even better than detect evil - except that detect evil has no such restrictions regarding the thickness of the rocks or lead coating.  And also the range is the same, and the duration is only 12 turns, which means it won't last all that long when traipsing through a dungeon.  2 turns or 12 turns, they're not that significantly different because you spent way way way more turns than 12 in a dungeon.  Heck, getting to the first set of stairs going down to the second level takes more than that even if you don't encounter anything (just saying).  On the other hand... who really needs to know what kind of thoughts are more than 2' of stone away from you?   Well, on the other other hand, 2' when your talking dungeons can be deceptively close.  Turn a corner and all of a sudden what was on the other side of 2' of stone is now only one thin door away from you.  So... this is a judgement call.  On the other hand, being able to read the thoughts of all creatures, good or evil, can be a pretty big boon at times.  Yet it doesn't say you can read the thoughts ... it only says you can detect them.  As in ... yes you detect some thoughts on the other side of this wall (only 1.9 feet thick, don't you know).  "What are the thoughts?" ... "You have no idea." ... "Oh.  Darn."   At least with detect evil you know the nature of the thoughts.  Overall... I think I'm going to vote for detect evil as more useful.

I rate this Spell 3 Stars for usefulness.

Continual Light: This spell creates a light wherever the caster desires.  It sheds a circle of illumination 24" in diameter, but does not equal full daylight.  it continues to shed light until dispelled.  Range: 12".

I take it that this spell doesn't move.  If it said "emanates from whatever object the caster desires" then I would say it moves.  In this case it may be permanent, but it's stationary nature makes it only so so useful.  Yay, I can light up the cavern.  But after that, well, now we have to leave the cavern and so the spell is no longer of any use to me.  Why should I need to have a continual light in some dungeon somewhere.  Once we leave, the presiding wizard or magical beastie is going to dispel it anyway if they don't like it there.  So ... meh.  Not so useful.  The fact it doesn't turn trolls to stone as well is another minus (although I shouldn't expect such power at 2nd Level, I suppose).  I dunno.  I guess if you're in a pinch, all the torches are gone, you're in a cavern and being attacked by a pack of whosiewhatsits ... yeah, then ok, it's not that bad.  Otherwise... so so.

I rate this Spell 2 Stars for usefulness.

Knock: A spell which opens secret doors, held portals, doors locked by magic, barred or otherwise secured gates, etc.  Range: 6".

Simple, clear, to the point, versatile and has a decent range.  Ok.  I buy it.

I rate this Spell 4 Stars for usefulness.

Ok and that's it for today.

In other news, things with the Elthos Project are coming along well.  I should be finished with the final version of the Core Rules book in a day or two (or three)... but getting closer!   If you're interested in jumping in on the Open Beta, please feel free to go to http://elthos.com, create a free beta account, and try things out.  It's coming along nicely but I can always use feedback.  Find a bug?  Tell me!  See something that can be improved?  Let me know!   Ok, thanks folks!   Till next time.  Ciao.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

A Response to 'Shocked and Flabbergasted'

Here is my contrarian response to a post I stumbled across today over at Halfling's Luck Blog titled 'What Just Happened? Shocked and Flabbergasted'

Hmmm... Ok, I'm going to be the contrarian here. I hope you don't mind, but I'd like to present an alternative point of view. In order to do so I'm going to present my thoughts with the full weight of their invective, in order to counter the emotional intensity of the original post, and perhaps turn the entire argument on it's head. But first I want to say that some players, and some GMs are indeed dicks. In this case, however, I will question this assumption despite the appearance.

First, based on what was said in the original post, we really have no idea of what this player was actually thinking. So I'm going to speculate as to what I think may have happened. Let me suppose that the players was steeped in medieval literature from an early age, having read a plethora of medieval literature, folklore and fairy tales and was fully aware of what medieval legends held the Fey and the Sidhe in particular to be like.  He might have been thinking that the 'real' Sidhe in the medieval world would have been treated with a great deal more respect (and fear) than what the boorish lumberjack showed.

Sidhe, to those who were true believers, as people from the medieval world surely were, were not merely another class, or people from another tribe who were normal humans with different social and political institutions. They were otherworldly, powerful, often fearsome, often malevolent supernatural beings who could do things like alter the weather to cause famines or floods, transport people to the fey world for hundreds of years at a time, or turn them to stone with a baleful glance.

As such, were you this player thinking this way (and showing up specifically with a pre-genned Sidhe suggests he may well have been just such a player) and not knowing this new GM's world or his players attitude, you too might have concluded that the Sidhe would not have taken too kindly to insulting behavior of the Lumberjack, who on seeing the Sidhe said,  "Ahh, a fey!" and spits on the ground and makes a religious sign to protect himself.

For one thing, I suspect that in medieval parlance such behavior would have been considered unwise by most woodsmen who might actually believe in the Sidhe.  Seeing a Sidhe would have elicited more likely than not a feeling of awe, or dread, rather than outright contempt and an obvious display of fear and loathing.  One should , we learn from all fairy tales, always try to be as polite as possible to the Fey.  They are powerful beings who can cause a great deal of trouble to those who slight them.  And it is well known that the fey are easily insulted, and have little tolerance for poor manners.

So, playing his characters as he felt he should, the Sidhe was probably shocked that a mere peasant would dare to be so overtly rude, and that this constituted an insult against all that is Fey, and something that no Sidhe could reasonably be expected to tolerate. In this case the choice would be between bringing down a major Doom upon the man, and perhaps his family, and perhaps the entire village, or ... a more immediate and direct display of Sidhe Justice by simply killing the fool as with a single blow - a just and overt reward for a blatant and overt insult.   In fact, in the medieval era one might easily expect this kind of response between two villagers of the same clan, let alone between a villager and a Sidhe.  Such might have been the thinking of our Sidhe player.  And such thinking would not have been unreasonable to someone who was role playing according to a medieval fantasy mind-set.   We should even note that the original poster characterized the Sidhe as follows:  "The Sidhe are basically Tolkienesque High Elves or True Fey type characters with some minor magic and an aura of grandeur."

One playing such a 'High Elven' character might have easily concluded that such insolence when first met must be responded to in no uncertain terms.  Hence, his immediate response.  But why, I might ask, did he not opt for a more circuitous, and sinister plan... something to avenge the insult in a way that would teach the village a lesson for a long time... perhaps by destroying the lumberjack and his family in some magical way?   Well, maybe that didn't seem fitting.  After all the insult was overt, so shouldn't the response be equally overt?  On the other hand, the player might have declared his intention by saying something like "You filthy peasant!  How do you dare to spit and cross yourself at me in my very sight?  Have you no manners at all?" and given the man at least one chance to correct his error.  Yet, even this would have likely felt to a Sidhe as being an option one might reserve for an accidental rather than intentional insult, as this appeared to be.  Hence, it is not hard to see the logic of his reaction.  Swift Justice may have seem to been demanded by the situation.  The GM created that situation, by the way, not the player.  I would suggest that the player's response was at least in part provoked by the GM's playing of the lumberjack.  After all, it does seem from the description that the lumberjack had indeed deliberately insulted the Sidhe character.  Clearly, something had to be done.  Or was the GM expecting the Sidhe with all of his High Elven pride and glamour to simply ignore the insult without saying anything in order to play nicely and be a nice guy and not mind too much and just go along meekly being insulted by random peasants?  I can imagine that would have felt a bit galling for some people.

Unfortunately, what the player, if my theory is correct (it may well not be, but I suspect it is), would have failed to realize is that his character was too low level to effectively kill the lumberjack in a single blow, and achieve his goal of glamorously over-awing all around with the deadly truth that the Sidhe are not to be slighted by anyone, least of all mere rural bumpkins.

Aside from having a character too low level to execute the attack, we might also note the player probably should have realized that he must test the waters of this new GM and fellow Players before taking such a decisive action, no matter how compelled he felt to avenge the honor of the Sidhe. On the other hand, had he done so, he would not have been truly role playing his character as he saw fit. Instead he would have been meta gaming his character in order to "fit in" with the group and been acting in accordance with the modern rules of political correctness.  In our society today no one is allowed to respond to passive aggressive assaults with any kind of direct response, but instead we're all expected to perpetuate the passive aggressive mode of retaliating in kind.  We have crafted a culture of back-biters and snide-remarkers, and we are supposed to abide by those rules.  At least according to those who so vociferously insist we do.  This after all is the new nice-nice way for civilized men to behave in our highly sophisticated culture, and that, as they say, is that.

I imagine, however, that this would not have been very satisfying to such a player as we are reading about in the post. After all, some people enjoin in medieval fantasy, one would think, in order to get away from such modern-day pressures.  Some actually want, after all, to do in fantasy what we are not able, or not allowed to do in reality.  Fantasy is called, as C.S. Lewis so aptly pointed out, escapism for a reason, is it not?

On the other hand, the low chance the Sidhe character must have had to make a swift end of the lumberjack (anything less than 80% should be considered too low in this case, I think) and teach the villagers a valuable and unerring lesson in manners is significant.  It means that he should have stopped himself and thought before so rashly acting. The very worst reaction would be one that actually does the opposite of its intent. Which is to say he only served, by luck of the dice, to reveal to the under awed villagers that the Sidhe are actually quite easily defeated and therefore contemptible blowhards. No Sidhe in their right mind would have taken a risk like that. Instead, he ought to have gone with Plan A - destroy the lumberjack from afar, via some curse or bane or poison, and perhaps take out his family, and possibly the village as well. Not to be a murder hobo, of course, but because the Sidhe are supernatural beings from the world between life and death and are absolutely not to be insulted by some jackass woodchuck spitting on the ground and casting insults. The Sidhe, if those steeped in the lore of the medieval world would know, could not possibly, and never would tolerate such behavior from mortal men.

Yet, what would the chances of this player being able to execute such a sinister plot have been in the world of this particular GM?  I am going to guess what I think he probably guessed - zero.  So when all was said and done, if the honor of the Sidhe was to be avenged at all it would have to have been done immediately.  A hunch, but I do think a reasonably fair one.

The entire tale strikes me as a case of a group of people from the 21st century imposing their own morality (and miscomprehension) on a fantastical medieval (Tolkienesque) past which is based largely on myths of the medieval era - a time in which people were so steeped in superstition as to burn witches at the stake with whole hearted zeal, and hideously torture fellow Christians for the sake of saving their souls from the devil.  Although it is completely alien to our way of thinking today, that's how people in the medieval world thought, and no matter how nice-nice modern people want to make the world you really can't change the historic reality of the past. But what very often happens, especially in fantasy based RPGs these days, is that the moral code and conceptions of "reality" that we hold so dear today (including our own ridiculous biases and absurd ideologies) is plopped down into settings wherein those moral codes would make absolutely no sense to anyone who actually lived in such a setting.

So here we have a lumberjack who acts more like a modern redneck rather than a rural medieval woodsman (who would have more likely than not shown good manners and deference to any Sidhe he might actually met). The Sidhe behaved rashly and inadvisability, tis true, but not beyond the realm of what a Sidhe might have at least wanted to do in that situation. One might imagine him grinding his teeth in anger and plotting a hellish revenge rather than outright assaulting the lumberjack, but that possibility was probably averted by the GM and other players.  Their shock at the Sidhe player's response was likely plainly evident by exclamations of "what?" and "OMG, are you serious?" The original post does say, "I paused in utter shock at this guy's choice of actions. The other two players clearly tense as the situation quickly becomes awkward." ... under such a circumstance the player may have felt cornered.  Either do nothing, and go along with the crowd or ... well, ... die trying, as it were.

Also, I would like to note that the other party members, instead of being shocked by this 7th century (and accurate) Sidhe behavior, might have reacted quite differently than doing what most 21st century politically correct people would do when confronted with a scene of sudden violence. Instead of shrinking away and declaring their non-involvement with "the trouble maker" they might have stepped in and tried to quell the violence before it resulted in anyone's death. They certainly had the arms and armor and man power to do so, had they not been typical 21st century weenies about it.  In other words, they had a golden opportunity to behave heroically.  That they weren't so inclined produced the fatal results.  They could have stopped the fight easily had they stepped up to do so.

However, because the GM was shocked by the Sidhe player's horrendous anti-nice-nice behavior, the other players may themselves have meta game role played the way they thought the GM would find acceptable - so their characters instead of acting anything remotely like heroes shrunk backwards in horror, their hands over their mouths, eyes bulging with anxiety, and decried the "pointless violence" of the Sidhe character, this achieving the opposite of what their characters stated they wanted - a cessation of violence. In the end, the reality was that six lumberjacks ganged up on a downed Sidhe who was provoked to an unwise and futile act of violence by redneck insults, and chopped him to death. All of which caused the entire universe to recoil in such horror at this obscenity that it was forced to roll back the sands of time itself so that the event never took place in the world at all. That's how bad it was!

Perhaps in this way of looking at it, the Sidhe was an actual hero suddenly cast into a world where honor has no value, and immediately upon encountering the reality of it, died like a hero - avenging his honor to his last breath under considerably dire odds, and with the local crowd of cowards looking on in horror and dismay, unable to act.  Perhaps.

But I don't now how much I want to blame the player who showed up with a Sidhe for all of that. I suspect he was quite possibly simply role playing what he thought his character as he conceived it, a real medieval world Sidhe, would have done in that situation. With a rude country bumpkin who has no manners at all, a Sidhe might well have concluded that a swift execution of Ultimate-Justice was in order, to the end that the dumb bell mortals learn their proper place in life.  Below that of the Sidhe.  Perhaps, perhaps.

I don't mean to sound insulting, and I hope people will forgive my impertinence, but I wanted to forcefully convey an alternate interpretation of this event for no particular reason other than someone ought to step up now and then and offer the contrarian point of view.