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.

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