Tuesday, July 22, 2014

B/X Spell List Overhaul: Cleric spells, level 2

The 2nd level cleric spell list gets a pretty extensive makeover.

  1. Augury
  2. Dilute Poison
  3. Hold Person
  4. Iron Will
  5. Resist Fire/Resist Cold
  6. Silence 15' Radius
  7. Vigilance
  8. Water Walk

1. Augury (adapted from Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion)
Range: 0
Duration: 3 turns

The Augury spell allows the cleric limited vision into the future with regard to some proposed action.  The spell informs the caster whether the action is likely to be beneficial, harmful, or neutral to the caster's party.  The results may be cryptic, but the general tenor should be clear.  For example, if the party is considering opening a door in the dungeon, and the DM knows that the room beyond is the lair of a very wealthy red dragon that the party has little chance of defeating, the spell might give the result "Greed beyond skill meets a fiery death."  The spell can only "see" 3 turns into the future, so only consequences within that time frame are taken into account.

2. Dilute Poison
Range: Touch
Duration: 4 rounds

This spell weakens deadly poisons, increasing a poisoned character's chances of survival.  It must be cast either during the round the poisoning occurrs or the round immediately following.  Damage from the poison is divided by 4 and spread over 4 rounds, including the initial round of poisoning.  In the case of poisons that are normally lethal (save or die) the damage is considered to be equal to the character's entire hit point total.  Each round thereafter, the poisoned character receives another saving throw vs. poison to avoid that round's damage.  Failure results in loss of hit points and a cumulative -1 penalty to all actions.  The lost hit points and penalties cannot be recovered by magical healing except a Neutralize Poison spell; they persist for a full day.

In the case of non-damaging poisons such as the venom of a giant centipede, the duration or other effects may be applied in quarters.
For example: A fighter with 20 hp is poisoned by a trap and fails his saving throw, but the party's cleric reaches him the next round and casts Dilute Poison.  Damage per round is 1/4 of the fighter's total of 20, or 5 hp.  The fighter takes 5 hp damage the initial round, and also incurs a -1 penalty to all actions.  (The first saving throw was already failed, which made the Dilute Poison spell necessary in the first place.)  He fails his saving throws the next two rounds, taking 10 more points of damage.  Fortunately, he makes his last save, and survives, with 5 hp remaining and a -3 penalty on all actions for a day.  

Note that if the character is not at maximum hp at the time of poisoning, even failing one saving throw can still be lethal.  In the example above, if the fighter had only 14 of his 20 hp left at the time of poisoning, he would have died.

4. Iron Will
Range: 0 (cleric only)
Duration: 2 turns + special

While the spell of Iron Will is in effect, the cleric is able to resist all mind-controlling and mind-reading effects, including charms, sleep, quest spells, geases, confusion, and ESP. The effect of such spells is deferred for 1 round per level of the caster; if the mind-affecting spell's duration has not expired at that time, it takes effect then, subject to any saving throw normally allowed. The duration of this resistance is subtracted from the total duration of the mind-affecting spell.

For example, a harpy uses its charming song against a 4th level cleric under the effect of Iron Will. The song has no effect at all on the cleric until 4 rounds have passed; during those rounds the cleric may act normally. At the end of those 4 rounds, the cleric must make the usual saving throw vs. spells to resist the charm.

5. Resist Fire/Resist Cold
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 day

This spell may be memorized in either of two forms, Resist Fire or Resist Cold.  For the duration of the spell, the target is completely immune to normal fire or cold, respectively.  Additionally, the spell will absorb 3 points of damage from magical fire or cold for each level of the caster.  For example, a Resist Fire spell cast by a 4th level cleric will absorb 12 points of damage from a Fire Ball or a red dragon's breath.  The spell lasts until it has absorbed its maximum amount of damage or 1 day, whichever comes first. 

7. Vigilance

Range: Touch
Duration: 2 turns per level

While under the effect of this spell, the recipient's alertness is heightened, and the need for sleep is suspended. The subject is immune to Sleep spells and any other spell or effect that would otherwise force it into a state of unconsciousness or unawareness. If the subject is alone or in relative quiet it cannot be surprised. In a party, the chances of surprise are reduced by 1 in 6.

8. Water Walk

Range: 0 (cleric only)
Duration: 6 turns

This spell enables the cleric to walk on water as if it were solid earth.  The movement of the water's surface affects the ease with which the cleric may walk upon it.  Turbulent waters may require Dexterity checks or saving throws vs. paralysis to avoid falling, as the DM deems appropriate.  Walking on heavy surf is as impossible as walking on the surface of an avalanche in progress.  If the cleric falls or is knocked down, he or she will float as if swimming, but it is still quite possible to drown while the spell is in effect.  There is no weight limit other than the cleric's maximum encumbrance.

Spells that got the old heave-ho:

Bless: The cheesy +1 bonuses to hit, damage, and morale just aren't worth expending a precious spell slot.

Find Traps: I don't see how this really fits into the purview of a religious crusader or spiritual mystic.  I'm not overly concerned about niche protection for the thief class, but I'm also a believer in allowing any character to search for most kinds of traps, so this spell is expendable.

Know Alignment: If Lawful is always good and Chaotic is always bad, then this spell is the ultimate spoiler of NPC motives, mystery, and intrigue.  If alignment doesn't always indicate motives, it's next to useless.

Snake Charm:  Such a narrow niche spell doesn't really need to take up one of the eight slots on the primary spell lists.

Speak With Animal: Again, this doesn't fit my vision of the cleric.  It would be more at home in a spell list for druids and/or elves.

Monday, July 21, 2014

B/X Spell Lists Overhaul: Cleric spells, level 1

In the not-too-distant past, I took a look at the spells of B/X D&D, both cleric and magic-user.  While there's a lot of good stuff, there's some room for improvement too.  Doing so entails retooling some spells to be more useful, and replacing some of the worst ones with better ones, either brand new or adapted from the cream of other editions and their clones and supplements.

First up, naturally enough, are the 1st level cleric spells.  I'm a fan of the tight lists of B/X as written, so I'm going to stick with the format of eight cleric spells per level.  (The higher level lists will need to be padded to bring their totals up to the standard 8.)  I also want to tighten the focus of cleric spells to center on matters of morality and ethics, spirituality, enduring hardship, and healing, leaving most of the miscellaneous effects and esoterica to students of the arcane.  These spell lists should have the appropriate "white magic" feel for a white mage or white witch class, too. 

Spells in italics have descriptions altered from the rules as written, as detailed below.  Spells in bold are adapted from clones, possibly with modifications, also detailed below. Bold and italics indicates a spell of my own devising.  Asterisks, as always, denote reversible spells.
  1. Concord*
  2. Cure Wounds*
  3. Detect Evil  
  4. Light* 
  5. Protection From Evil
  6. Purify Food and Water*
  7. Remove Fear*
  8. Sanctuary*
 1. Concord*
Range: 0
Duration:1 turn

The Concord spell subtly influences persons and creatures affected to seek peace and agreement with others.  The spell affects creatures within a 10' radius of the cleric.  It may be used on all creatures within the area of effect whose Hit Dice individually do not exceed the level of the cleric, or on a single creature within the area whose Hit Dice are up to twice the cleric's level.  The cleric need not speak in a language understandable to the targets, though this of course will facilitate greater cooperation.  The first reaction roll made for the affected creatures is adjusted one step in a positive direction; thus "immediate attack" is upgraded to hostile, hostile to neutral, neutral to friendly. Additionally, affected creatures are prevented from attacking for one full turn.  The cleric himself is technically unaffected by the spell, but must deal in good faith with the affected creatures, or the spell is immediately nullified and a new reaction roll is made, adjusted one step in a negative direction.

Undead, constructs, and mindless creatures are immune to this spell.

The reversed spell, Discord, heightens tensions and enmities between the affected creatures, adjusting their reactions to one another one step in a negative direction.  All creatures within range whose Hit Dice do not exceed the cleric's level are affected, and may be turned against one another without respect to faction or allegiance.  Depending on the nature of the creatures and the context of the encounter, hostilities may manifest in verbal altercations rather than physical combat.

2. Cure Wounds*

As given in the standard spell description, this spell heals 1d6+1 hit points of damage to a creature touched by the cleric.  It may also be memorized and cast at a  higher level, if a higher level spell slot is available.  For each level above 1st, add 1d6+1 points of damage to the roll for hit points healed, to a maximum of 7d6+7 if cast as a 7th level spell.  For example, casting Cure Wounds as a 4th level spell will heal 4d6+4 points of damage.

The reversed spell, Cause Wounds, inflicts the same amount of damage to a creature touched.  If used in combat, this requires a standard attack roll, but if this misses, the spell remains active and the cleric may attack again until the spell is discharged or one standard turn (10 minutes) has passed, at which time the spell dissipates harmlessly.

4. Light*

This spell functions exactly as in the Basic Rules, but also subsumes the function of Continual Light if cast as a 3rd level spell.  Rather than being truly permanent, the Continual Light lasts for 1 day per level of the caster.  Additionally, the cleric may only have one Continual Light in existence at a time; if another is cast, the previous one is dispelled.

6. Purify Food and Water*

The reversed spell, Befoul Food and Water, causes an amount of food or drink equal to that affected by the normal spell to become spoiled and unfit for consumption.  Consuming them anyway causes a character to suffer terrible nausea and fever for 1d4 days, inflicting a -4 penalty to all actions.

7. Remove Fear*

The spell's range is reduced to 0, and the area of effect is expanded to a 20' radius circle around the caster, affecting all friendly creatures within the circle at the time the spell is cast.  For the spell's duration, the creatures are immune to normal fear, increasing morale scores by 1 point, if applicable, and gain a saving throw bonus against magical fear equal to the caster's level.  Additionally, those failing may attempt a new save each round to recover and rally.  At the DM's discretion, a character under the effect of this spell may automatically succeed at non-combat tasks that would otherwise be difficult due to fear, such as walking across a plank over a deep chasm.

The reversed spell affects a similar area, and will cause all hostile creatures except those immune to fear, such as undead, to flee at their maximum movement rate for 2 turns if a save vs. spells is failed.

8. Sanctuary (adapted from Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion)

Range: Touch
Duration: 1d6 rounds +1 round per level

For the duration of the spell, any creature attempting to attack or otherwise directly harm the spell recipient must succeed at a saving throw vs. spells.  If the throw fails, the attacker will ignore the recipient in favor of attacking a different target, or some other action.  If the spell recipient attacks, the spell is broken at once, but otherwise it may cast non-offensive spells and take any non-aggressive action.  The recipient can still be harmed by area affect spells.

The reversed spell, Imperil, draws the attention of all hostile creatures toward the affected creature.  Each must make a saving throw vs. spells or seek to attack that creature.  The target cannot hide or become invisible while this spell is in effect; if already invisible that effect is canceled while Imperil lasts, resuming when the spell expires.  Note that Imperil does not make creatures hostile; it only affects those already in combat.

Spells that got the old heave-ho:

Cure Light Wounds, replaced by Cure Wounds.  One healing spell that can be scaled with level makes more sense to me than separate healing spells at various levels.

Detect Magic, which seems to me to be the province of the magic-user rather than the cleric class.

Resist Cold, which was of marginal usefulness at best.  Will be incorporated into the list of 2nd level cleric spells as a reverse of Resist Fire.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A few variations for the basic magic-user

I'm not really a fan of having a thousand sub-classes of magic-user, each with its own spell lists, but I do like to have a few flavorful options.  Here are a few fairly simple ones I've come up with by playing with the rules for memorization and casting.  Only one doesn't use the standard spell lists.

Mage:  This is the archetypal magic-user who learns to cast spells through rigorous study.  The mage must memorize spells, as per the standard rules, but can memorize extra spells per level equal to his or her Intelligence adjustment (minimum of one spell per level that the character can cast, in the case of a magic-user with an Int penalty.)  For example, a 3rd level magic-user, according to the B/X rules, can memorize two 1st level spells and one 2nd level spell.  With Intelligence 16, a +2 bonus, she can memorize four 1st level and three 2nd level spells.  If her Intelligence were 8, she could memorize only one of each.

The mage can actually cast only the number of spells per level per day given in the table, unmodified by Intelligence, so our 3rd level mage can cast two 1st level spells and one 2nd level spell, regardless of her Intelligence.  Any memorized spell can be cast as often as desired within that limit, however.  For example, if the mage has Sleep, Read Languages, Protection From Evil, and Detect Magic memorized, she can cast any one of them twice.  It's not fire and forget; it's rehearse and cast as needed.  The magic-user with higher Intelligence can remember more spells at once, providing greater versatility, without increasing absolute spell-casting power.

Alchemist:  The alchemist casts spells by mixing magical and chemical substances.  Unlike the standard mage, who can choose freely amongst her memorized spells when casting, the alchemist must prepare specific spells in advance.  He may prepare as many spells per level per day as the spell tables prescribe, plus his Intelligence bonus, and may "cast" them all.  If a 3rd level alchemist with Intelligence 16 prepares two Sleep spells, Charm Person, and Detect Magic, then he can cast Sleep twice and the other spells once each.  Each spell so prepared costs 1 sp (or whatever base coin the campaign uses) per spell level.  His concoctions have a very short shelf-life, remaining viable for only one day, after which they become inert, and new ones must be prepared.

An alchemist may carry a supply of extra reagents to prepare spells in the field; each 100 sp worth of reagents weighs 1 pound. 

Spells cast by an alchemist cannot be foiled by magical silence.

Fey-touched:  These magic-users are a breed apart, either tainted with fairy blood, or changelings raised among fairies before returning to human society.  Fey-touched magic-users are innate spell casters, being able to cast any spell in their repertoire, within the limits of the spells per level per day tables.  However, they do not gain bonuses from Intelligence, nor are they able to add new spells to their repertoires by study.  Instead, they begin play knowing two 1st level spells, and gain a new spell at each level of experience, determined randomly from the spell levels the character is currently able to cast.  Reroll duplicates. 

Due to their fey heritage, fey-touched magic-users gain the same immunity to paralysis from the attacks of ghouls that Elves enjoy, as well as the Elven ability to detect secret doors.

Because they need not study to learn spells, fey-touched characters may choose to learn the arts of battle as well, gaining the ability to use any armor or weapon and a d6 Hit Die, and advancing on the Elf experience table.  Such magic-users are limited to 10th level, as an Elf.  (Elves can be considered to be fey-touched spellcasters by default.)  Of course, a fey-touched magic-user can also forego this additional training and focus solely on magic, using the standard magic-user tables without limit, but they still remain curiously unable to learn magic by study as ordinary magic-users do.

White Mage:  Taking a more spiritual path than the standard mage, white witches and wizards are able to learn and cast spells from both the magic-user and cleric spell lists (and druidic spells as well, if those are available in the game.)  Using any spell which causes direct bodily harm, however, will rebound on the caster, causing equal harm; thus such spells are rarely learned or used.  White mages memorize extra spells as standard mages, using either their Intelligence or Wisdom bonus, whichever is lower.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Unlocking challenges by spending loot

A lot has been written on how to lighten the coffers of experienced PCs.  If you go by the book, and award XP for gp on a 1:1 basis, the typical fighter character will have amassed a fortune approaching 200,000 gp by 9th level, even allowing a fair chunk from defeating monsters and other awards.  Pool an entire party's resources, and you could be looking at more than a million gp. And once the last fighter PC has bought his plate armor, probably before he even reaches 2nd level, there's not a whole lot on which to spend the loot, at least until you hit Name level and contemplate building a stronghold.

Suggestions range from unforgiveably heavy-handed (theft, surprise taxes) to transparent railroading (training costs and such.)  Then there are some intriguing ideas, like carousing rules, which award XP only for treasure spent on carousing between adventures.  One variant I've seen (and I can't remember where, so if it's yours, step up and claim credit!) adds other options for characters who are more studious or civic-minded to gain XP by spending their gold on research or charity.  Though I personally don't think I'd use it in my games, I can see the advantages it has over the other methods in terms of player agency:  Players have an actual choice, to spend their hard-won loot on carousing or some other form of reputation-building activity, in effect dissipating the loot for XP, or they can save it and spend it on more practical things that aid their careers in more tangible ways.

I'm thinking of something a bit different, though.  It wouldn't have to conflict with the spend-money-to-earn-XP paradigm (in fact, it would blend pretty nicely with it.)  In classic console-based RPGs like Final Fantasy and (my personal favorite) the Dragon Warrior series, the heroes don't have access to the entire game world all at once.  They must earn access to new places and win the favor of important people in order to advance.  New areas and quests are unlocked as the heroes progress in the game.  Rescue the merchant's daughter from a monster attack, and he rewards you with a ship so you can sail to new lands.  Recover a magical key from a remote town so you can open all the doors in the castle.  Gather enough gold so the old man can hire workers and realize his dream of building a tunnel under the mountains to the next kingdom.

The analogy of console RPG to D&D isn't perfect.  The money gathered in most classic CRPGs is spent almost exclusively on weapon and armor upgrades, of which there aren't a lot in D&D.  The unlocking of new areas to explore and new quests to fulfill is driven mostly by acquisition of "plot coupon" items or defeating boss enemies in previous quests, and is usually pretty linear in nature.  Still, the general principle of unlocking new challenges translates quite well to a tabletop RPG sandbox.

The idea of the sandbox, of course, is that the PCs can go anywhere.  That doesn't mean everything has to be free and easy, though.  All sorts of barriers exist to hinder characters going wherever they want to go - barriers physical, magical, political, and social.  Money can buy passage in many different ways.  What's different about the sandbox as opposed to the CRPG is that where the CRPG has a fairly linear plot, the sandbox offers many paths, none of which is mandatory.  The characters don't HAVE to spend their hard-earned gold on any one of them if they don't want to.  Players can choose which opportunities to pursue and which not, and that makes their decision to spend gold on pursuing them meaningful. 

The DM's job is to seed the campaign with enough rumors and facts about these difficult-to-reach places that the players are dying to get to them.  Put the ideas in the players' heads early, long before they have the resources to actually go there, and remind them often enough to keep their imaginations churning.  Make sure you keep track of what you've told them, but there's no need to develop anything in great detail until they're on the cusp of actually doing it.  Sketches and hints are enough for now.  Tell them how the sailors talk with superstitious reverence of the Phantom Isle rumored to be the last, cursed stronghold of an ancient race.  Toss out rumors of the Lost Temple of Bara or the abandoned city of the dwarves.  Show the benefits that more experienced champions earn through their connections with powerful guilds and nobles.  Have a half-mad caravan guard come stumbling home, the last survivor of an ill-fated expendition to the exotic lands beyond the mountains, raving about cities of gold and jewels.

In the meantime, keep them occupied with the usual low-hanging fruit of beginning adventures - local ruins, orc raids, the abandoned mine where people hear that mysterious knocking sound at night.  These need not be boring or mundane adventures, but the gleam of what's just over the horizon should lure the party ever onward and have them counting their coppers after every new haul to see if they've got enough to bankroll the Big Quest.

How do you get them to drop coin on these things?

  • The most prosaic example is the island.  Booking passage to coastal towns a simple matter.  Getting a captain to drop you on an ordinary island slightly off his usual route might cost a bit more.  Talk about an expedition to some dreaded place, and you might have to buy a ship outright and hire a crew of the craziest and most desperate souls you can find.
  • The doorway into the lost temple is sealed, and the walls around it covered in inscriptions in a long-forgotten tongue explaining how to gain entrance.  It's going to take a sage a few months and a big budget for old books to decipher it.  Maybe the party even needs to take him on the dangerous journey to the place itself.
  • The cave that once housed the nefarious gang of thieves is covered by a landslide.  It'll take a party of adventurers months to clear it, unless they shell out some coin to hire laborers and keep them safe while they work.
  • There's a wilderness area, rife with many ruins and dungeons to explore, but far from any town or other safe haven.  The adventurers might need to construct a secure base, perhaps a pallisade fort, and garrison it with mercenaries so they have somewhere to come back and rest between delves.  Otherwise, constant threat of wandering enemies will take its toll.
  • Connections to the Merchants' Guild, the local nobility or royalty, or a secret society might bring lots of special commissions, but in order to cultivate those connections, you're going to need to grease the wheels and dress the part.  Showing up at the Duke's Ball in full murderhobo attire is not likely to end well, let alone impress the Duke into taking the PCs into his confidence.  The PCs may have to spend a lot of time and money cultivating their image, purchasing a villa or manor in which to live large and host social events of their own, before they're even invited to the Duke's events.
  • On the other hand, sometimes the best friends to have are from low places.  To win the trust and admiration of the peasantry, the PCs can spend their gold on temples, houses of healing, roads and bridges, fortifications against marauders, or whatever the locals most need.  Especially worthwhile if one of their goals is to overthrow or otherwise undermine the authority of a local despot.
  • The dwarven ruins were sealed so long ago that even the dwarves have forgotten why they were abandoned, but none is daring enough to return, despite persistent rumors of hoards of mighty weapons and armor and the forgotten secrets of their forging.  In order to open the seal, a series of three keys must be made, with precious metals and stones, by the most skilled dwarven craftsmen, and they're not going to do it for free.
  • Or, perhaps the current dwarf stronghold guards the only pass through the mountains to the mysterious kingdoms beyond, and the dwarves are xenophobic and suspicious of humans.  The party could spend months doing favors to win their trust...or offer them a tribute of gold and jewels to gain their favor and passage through the mountains.
  • In the depths of some dungeon or ruin, the party stumbles upon a magical portal.  Unfortunately, it's broken, and will take a lot of resources and the assistance of NPC experts to repair.  Tantalizing rumors abound as to what lies at the other end. 
  • The PCs find a map to the location of a sunken ship or island, and need to have a high-level magic-user cast enough Water Breathing spells for the whole party.  She's going to need a good incentive to leave her own research and go on a sea voyage, or even just write up a supply of scrolls of the spell.  She doesn't accept IOUs or payment on contingency, but cold hard coin will do just fine.

The range of possible expeditions is limited only by imagination.  This isn't meant to be an advancement tax; the players should always have a choice not only between various quests on which to expend their money, but whether to take up any of the costly expeditions at all.  Players can keep on scouring the easily accessible areas if they're determined to pinch coppers, but should be aware that the best loot and the most amazing discoveries haven't remained undiscovered by being easy to find and break into.  As they say, you've got to spend money to make money (or magic, or discoveries of lost civilizations or earth-shattering knowledge of the campaign world's secrets, as the case may be.)  Creative ways of reducing or avoiding monetary costs should of course be openly entertained by the DM, but sometimes spending money is just the best and most efficient way to go.  If the PCs would rather bribe the dwarf king than perform a series of Fed-Ex quests for him, don't discourage them.

Of course, there really should be something awesome awaiting the PCs when they finally reach their long-dreamed-about destination.  It need not be what they were expecting, or even what they were told to expect by madman or by sage, but it had better be good enough that they'll be excited about unlocking the next inaccessible place too. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

B/X Spell Roundup, 3rd level magic-user spells, part 3

Here we are at the final (at least for now) installment of my little series on the B/X spell lists.  Of course there are several more levels of spells, but the first three are the ones that come into play by far the most often.

9. Lightning Bolt:  The other iconic "big gun" spell, after Fire Ball.  Besides the difference in damage types (which rarely comes into play in B/X anyway, except for a few creatures with vulnerabilities to fire or cold) the major difference is in range and area of effect.  A Lightning Bolt can start up to 180' away, and projects a bolt 60' long and 5' wide.  Both inflict 1d6 points of damage per level of the caster, but for the math geeks out there, a Fire Ball affects an area of about 1,256 square feet (pi times 20' radius squared) while Lightning Bolt affects a measly 300 square feet (60 times 5), making Fire Ball the better spell by far in terms of pure damage potential.  Fiction-wise, though, I always thought it was cooler to throw lightning than fire, but that's a matter of taste.

Lightning Bolt is also a lot more hazardous in confined spaces: if the bolt strikes a solid surface such as a wall before reaching its full 60' length, it rebounds back toward the caster until the difference is made up.  I seem to recall some edition in which a rebounding bolt could inflict damage both on the initial incidence and the reflection, should a target be unfortunate enough to get caught in both, but in B/X this isn't stated to be the case. 

A DM with a bare minimum of knowledge in physics and geometry could easily modify the reflection rule, applying the physical law that angle of incidence equals angle of reflection, and allow the caster to pull off some cool bank shots, and even have the bolt ricochet more than once.

10. Protection From Evil 10' Radius:  Take everything I love about the 1st level Protection from Evil spell and extend it in a 10' radius around the caster and you've got this little gem.  Cast this, and the entire party can cross a room full of vampires, gargoyles, elementals, or any other enchanted creatures completely unscathed.  Oh, it offers the trifling little bonuses of +1 to saving throws and -1 to the attack rolls of such creatures as well, but that's a side benefit at best.  It also has double the duration of the base spell, lasting a full 12 turns. 

The spell description doesn't state whether a protected individual attacking an enchanted creature breaks the barrier for the entire group or just that character.  (The Mentzer rules offer clarification: any protected creature attacking will negate the barrier for all those protected with respect to the specific creature attacked but not to others.  Thus, if the fighter attacks a gargoyle, the creature is now free to swoop in on anyone within the circle of protection, but a specter that hasn't been attacked by anyone is still blocked.  It makes perfect sense to me, but if you're a B/X purist, that's only one possible interpretation and not gospel.)

Also left unspecified is whether a character stepping outside the circle of protection can regain it by re-entering the circle.  Mentzer offers no advice here either.  Personally, I'd rule that the protected area is protected, period, unless the caster personally breaks it.  Step outside, and you're vulnerable; step back in, and you're protected again, with the caveat that any creature you attacked while outside is now able to enter the barrier.

11. Protection From Normal Missiles:  There are all sorts of tactical reasons why being completely immune to arrows, sling stones, and thrown weapons would prove useful.  It can enable a thief to climb a wall without being picked off, a magic-user to fly or levitate above the field of battle with almost complete invulnerability, or an archer to stand in the open and rain his own volleys of missiles on the enemy.  A captain could make a taunting speech from the battlements, a la Aragorn at Helm's Deep, amid a hail of arrows. 

I would think that trap-fired projectiles such as poison darts would also be among the sorts of missiles the spell deflects, so it's even of some use during a dungeon crawl with little ranged combat.  With a duration of 12 turns, you can get in a lot of exploring and fighting before it expires. 

It won't block enchanted missiles, nor huge ones like catapult shot, ballista bolts, or giant-hurled boulders, but those are a distinct minority among the types of missile fire likely to be faced by adventuring PCs.

12. Water Breathing:  This is one of my favorites for the simple reason that it grants characters an ability truly beyond ordinary human limits.  It's one of the most quintessentially magical magic spells in the rules, in my estimation.  It enables a character to breathe underwater without hindering the ability to breathe air, and it lasts a full day, making otherwise completely inaccessible places possible to explore.  The only drawback, and it's a pretty significant one, is that it affects only one creature per casting.  Even at the highest levels attainable in B/X, a magic-user can only cast it four times per day, so it's probably not going to enable an entire party to go adventuring beneath the waves.  For a one or two person dive into a murky pool, an underground river, or a sunken shipwreck, though, it's perfect.  It could prove helpful if you need to fake a death by drowning, and it might also come in handy in a pinch if someone in metal armor falls into deep water, since it has a range of 30'.

And with that, it's time to wrap up the Spell Roundup and move on to other topics.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

B/X Spell Roundup: 3rd level magic-user spells, part 2

Four more superbly useful magic-user spells - and not a direct damage spell among them.

5. Haste:  Super speed is often a useful ability, and in B/X, it lacks the penalty levied against it in AD&D (specifically, rapid aging) so you can use it with impunity as often as you're able to cast it.  The doubled movement rate is nice, but of course the main attraction is doubling the rate of attacks.  It affects up to 24 creatures (implying that the caster can choose which ones) within a 60' diameter circle, and at up to 240' range.  (What's the deal with the crazy range, anyway?)  This means that you can easily Haste the entire party, plus mounts and henchmen, even if melee has already begun.   

In case it isn't obvious, let me just state it plainly: Doubling the attacks of an entire party, even a smallish one, is a huge advantage.  Characters who have trouble hitting in combat get an extra chance per round to do so.  Characters who hit easily can buzz through opponents in a whirlwind of steel and blood.   Hey, at least it's not like AD&D or Mentzer D&D, where higher-level fighter-types get extra attacks, and then get those doubled by Haste.  The only time you're likely to see that level of rules exploitation in B/X is when players stack the effect of the spell with the effects of items like a potion of speed.  Even so, it might be a good idea to reinterpret the spell as providing an extra attack per round, rather than doubling attacks.  Most of the time it's functionally identical, but when it isn't, it prevents crazy stuff like a warhorse getting four strikes per round or a pet bear getting six.

With such great offensive potential, the defensive use of the spell is easily overlooked.  Doubling the movement rates of an entire party is a great way to beat a hasty retreat from a too-tough encounter.

Other tasks might be accelerated also.  The rules specify that Haste does not increase the rate of spell-casting, so I interpret it as affecting only movement and reflexes, not thinking and cognitive functions.  A repetetive task that requires no active thinking could be sped up this way, but it wouldn't allow you to read a book twice as fast, for instance.  You could clear a passage of rubble in half the time it would normally take, but I wouldn't allow a thief to pick locks faster, because that involves more of the higher cognitive functions that aren't affected by Haste.

6. Hold Person:  Though the description states that it's exactly like the cleric spell of the same name, it's actually a bit inferior in range and duration:  120' and 1 turn per level, vs. 180' and a flat 9 turns for the cleric version.  I'm not sure if this is a deliberate design choice or just the result of the spells being written up separately, but these ticky-tack little differences between one version and another serve no purpose in my mind other than annoyance.  It doesn't make arcane magic and divine magic feel different; it's just another set of numbers to look up.

Anyway...the spell itself is in all other respects as useful as the clerical version.  Even slightly nerfed compared to that version, it's one that should make most players salivate over the possibility of acquiring.

7. Infravision:  This might be the shortest spell description in the rules:  "This spell enables the creature it is cast on to see objects in the dark to a distance of 60'."  That's it.  That's a bit simpler than the description of the infravision ability of dwarves, elves, and monsters as given in the Basic rules, but it's probably a safe assumption that that description applies to the spell effect as well. 

Though the range is listed as 0, the description clearly implies that it's a touch spell rather than caster only, and it lasts an entire day!  A magic-user could cast it on someone as a backup in case the party's light sources fail.  Cast it on a thief or other stealthy character in order to scout ahead without betraying his presence with bright light.  In a party with most of the fighting roles filled by dwarves and elves who already have infravision, it's conceivable that a magic-user with a couple level 3 spell slots could grant the rest of the party the ability and forego light sources altogether.

8. Invisibility 10' Radius:  What's better than invisibility?  Invisibility for the whole party, of course!  This spell functions exactly as the 2nd level Invisibility spell (though apparently on creatures only - there's no mention of objects) except that the range is 120' including the semi-permanent duration.  It also makes all creatures within 10' of the target creature invisible as well, as long as they remain within 10' and don't attack or cast spells (conditions which break the standard Invisibility spell, and presumably this one as well.)  The description implies that creatures break their invisibility individually, i.e. one creature attacking becomes visible itself, but doesn't dispel the invisibility of the others.

One rather important detail that isn't stated is whether the creatures made invisible by the spell can see each other.  If they can't, keeping within 10' of the central target creature, especially when that creature is moving, is problematic.  It's probably easiest to rule that they can see each other, though it might be an interesting twist if a creature loses the ability to see the others if it breaks the spell on itself by attacking or moving too far away. 

Naturally, Invisibility 10' Radius has all sorts of stealth, ambush, and escape applications.  A circle 20' across is wide enough to encompass a small camp site, minimizing the chances of the party being attacked while resting.  Turning the whole party invisible is a nice way to foil pursuit, too. 

A potentially fun, if rather dastardly, trick which might be played with the spell is to have an attractive target visible in the middle, surrounded by invisible fighter-types.  Won't those orcs who think they're ganging up on a squishy wizard be surprised?!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

B/X Spell Roundup, 3rd level magic-user spells, part 1

Meanwhile, back on the magic-user spell lists...
Woohoo!  Your magic-user has reached level 5!  Third level spells!  You have truly arrived.  Or so we've always been led to believe.  Let's analyze the Awesomeness Coefficient of these spells and find out how much truth there is to that.

1. Clairvoyance:  It hasn't got quite the range I'd like to see in a scrying spell, but being able to see through the eyes of another creature behind walls or closed doors could be a very useful ability.  You see whatever the creature whose eyes you're using sees, presumably including any special visual perceptions like infravision or magic detection.  Thus, you can get a very good idea not only of the number and strength of creatures in the area, but the layout and contents of the room.

Clever characters could use the spell to discover secrets within a monster's or NPC's area.  Watch for long enough, or at just the right time, and you might catch the villain slipping through the secret door to his treasury, or hiding the key in the mouth of the dragon's head trophy on the wall.

It might be most fun and useful in social/mystery adventures in strongholds or settlements.  Need to know with whom the baron is meeting in his chambers, or what the merchant guildmaster is up to when he locks himself inside the vault?  Clairvoyance is the go-to magic to get the scoop.  If the party has a mole in some secret meeting, using Clairvoyance to look through his eyes is a good way to keep tabs on the situation.

Naturally, the spell conveys only what the target creature sees, and does not include sound or other sensory information.  It lasts a full 12 turns, with the caster being able to switch creatures each turn if desired.  As noted above, the range of 60' is somewhat meager.  That puts it well within the range of other spells, though, and there's nothing in the rules to suggest that Charm Person or Invisibility can't be cast through a wall or a door.  Clairvoyance lets you see potential targets without being physically present.  If you see the orc king through the eyes of his bodyguard, why not try to charm him before you even barge into the room?

2. Dispel Magic:  It's so simple and straightforward, yet possibly the single most useful spell a magic-user can know.  It destroys all spell effects within a 20' cube, with a chance that spells cast by a higher level character are unaffected.  Just about every party faces spell-casting enemies, and Dispel Magic is the ultimate counter.  (Of course, the enemy will happily use it against PCs, too.)  Any advantage that the bad guy caster and his allies can gain from spell effects - illusions, haste, flight, defensive barriers, invisibility - can be wiped away in one fell swoop.  So can effects that hinder the party, like sleep, charm, hold person, web, wizard lock, being blinded by light or darkness, and such.  Alert players might even be able to catch an opponent at a point where losing the enchantment would be really inconvenient, like while levitating 30' above the ground or walking through fire under the influence of a Resist Fire spell. 

The range of 120' is quite respectable.  I can think of only two real weak points.  It isn't much good against spells with an instantaneous duration, such as most direct damage-causing spells.  Since it's an area effect spell, and can't be targeted to a single creature, care must be taken, lest the caster dispel beneficial effects from his own party members.

3. Fire Ball:  This was always the spell that every magic-user in my campaigns of yore lusted after.  Big damage - a d6 per level of the caster, and over a big area 40' across!  It doesn't hurt that you can fling it up to 240' away, either (so you can damage an opponent at 260', taking the spell's maximum range as the center of the fiery blast.)  At 5th level, the damage rolled averages 17.5 points, which is just short of enough to take out an average 4 HD creature, assuming saving throws are failed.  That's pretty potent, and it only goes up from there.  At level 10, a magic-user is dealing out an average of 35 points, and he can do it three times per day if he uses all three of his 3rd level spell slots for Fire Ball.  The average 8 HD creature has about 36 hp.

My players tended to save big-gun spells like Fire Ball for the biggest enemies, and it certainly is good for softening up a really tough opponent before the fighters close to melee.  It's perhaps even more useful for wiping out lesser enemies en masse, turning a protracted, resource-depleting combat into an instant rout, allowing the party to advance toward a bigger goal without sacrificing any of their precious hit points. 

As powerful as Fire Ball is, its limitations should not be downplayed either.  In a dungeon, a 40' blast area is bigger than many rooms.  True, you can cast it so that up to half that area is "wasted," expended against a wall, but that's still engulfing a 20' radius semicircle in searing flames.  Besides monsters, you might be inadvertently frying stuff that you might rather like to pick up after the fight, too.  Outdoors, it's likely that enemies will be spread out a little more, so that 40' blast will only catch a few.  (As a comparison, the three-point line on a basketball court is twenty-ish feet in radius, comparable to the area of a fireball.  Put ten guys in there running and jumping and bumping into each other, and it starts looking pretty crowded.  Disciplined troops in a large army might charge in tighter formation, but ragged skirmishing groups of bandits or humanoids probably don't.) 

Using Fire Ball as a one-shot win against a formidable host in either setting should require either clever tactics or very good luck.

4. Fly:  For pure freedom of movement, it's hard to beat this one.  It allows flight at up to 120' per round - that's three times the unencumbered encounter speed of a character, or equal to full running speed, with no real exertion at all - the magic does all the work.  (It has to, right?  It's not as if the magic-user flaps his arms or otherwise expends physical effort to propel himself.)  There is no stated weight limit for Fly to be effective, so that's open to interpretation.  For the sake of simplicity I'd probably rule that up to the maximum weight allowance for a character, it functions as normal, and beyond that it's too much for the magic to lift.  It lasts 1d6 turns plus the caster's level, so even at 5th level, you get at least an hour of flight, and it can be cast on another creature by touch if desired rather than on the caster himself.

Except in really enormous rooms with high ceilings, Fly is of very limited utility in the dungeon.  Outdoors, the sky is literally the limit.  I could list all sorts of advantages that a PC might gain from this, but frankly, if you can't see them, what are you even doing playing a game of imagination?  I also can't see any reason that Fly wouldn't propel a character through water as well, though perhaps at a lesser speed due to resistance. 

So far, I'd say these are all living up to the hype.  Can this 3rd level spell list sustain that level of greatness for another eight spells?  (Spoiler alert: Yes, it can.)