Monday, April 14, 2014

B/X Spell Roundup: 3rd level cleric spells, part 2

Just a couple more for level 3.  One of the things I had forgotten (or perhaps never fully realized in the first place, since back in the day we went from Moldvay Basic to Mentzer Expert) was that the cleric spell lists in Cook Expert diminish at higher levels, unlike the magic-user lists, which hold steady at a dozen per level.

5. Remove Curse:  Even more so than Cure Disease, this is a spell that you probably wouldn't want to memorize in advance of someone's being cursed.  Most curses in B/X are of the nuisance variety, and not directly fatal.  Granted, incurring a -2 penalty to all hit and damage rolls may once in a while make the difference in a fight, but unlike, say, being poisoned, you can work around it.  Worst case scenario is usually that you do just that, suck it up and work around the inconvenience, until the cleric gets new spells in the morning.  Some nastier curses than those given in the book could increase the incentive to take the spell pre-emptively a little bit.  Instead of a sword that just subtracts a point or two from attack rolls and damage, one that forces the wielder to make a saving throw at the start of combat or go battle-mad and become unable to tell friend from foe makes things a bit more urgent. 

The reversed spell, Curse, afflicts the target with a curse if the saving throw is failed.  The examples given are all just penalties to various rolls or attributes, which is pretty bland.  They certainly don't have to be so dull; the description of the Sprite in the monsters chapter suggests more colorful possibilities, like tripping or having your nose grow.  Curses aren't a whole lot of help in a real fight; they're more of a long-term revenge/malicious mischief-type spell.  The spell description warns against too-powerful curses, advising the DM that these can be turned back on the caster.  Curses bestowed by magic items, unholy altars, or vengeful spirits can circumvent that restriction to some degree and impose nastier effects. 

It's worthy of note that the description says the spell will free a character from a cursed magical item.  It doesn't say that it purges the curse from the item itself.  So, you could rid a character of the compulsion to use that sword -1, and allow him to put it down and walk away from it, but you won't turn it into a normal sword +1.

6. Striking: It sounded pretty cool way back when I first learned of it, but I've since come to think of Striking as basically another one-trick-pony spell.  It's not that it's useless by any means, but there's little room for creative and unorthodox use.  It bestows the ability on one weapon to inflict an extra 1d6 points of damage on a successful attack.  It also gives a normal weapon the ability to harm creatures that can normally be damaged only by magical weapons, though it doesn't specify whether the weapon does its usual damage plus 1d6, or only the 1d6 from the Striking spell to such targets.  The duration is a single turn, so it's basically good for one combat.

Now, as I finish up this round of spells, an observation has crystallized in my mind.  A lot of cleric spells are what I would call reactive spells, as opposed to spells that may be used in proactive ways.  A very specific condition must obtain before the spell is useful.  A character has to contract a disease before you use Cure Disease.  Remove Curse is utterly useless until somebody gets cursed.  Even the ubiquitous Cure Light Wounds is only useful after somebody loses some hit points.  Make no mistake, these are useful spells within the context of the D&D game, but they're probably not going to get anyone fired up about playing a cleric.  You're never going to impress the DM or your fellow players by cleverly casting Cure Disease to remove a character's case of mummy rot, because it isn't clever.  There's no player skill involved at all. 

I'm not sure yet what the best "fix" for this is.  Maybe the cleric needs a few more exciting spells, or maybe there needs to be a good solid reason for playing one other than "fights almost but not quite as well as a fighter, and casts a few ho-hum spells."

Friday, April 11, 2014

B/X Spell Roundup: 3rd level cleric spells, part 1

Going over the 3rd level cleric spell lists, I'm reminded of why I was never really excited about a cleric PC in any of my campaigns reaching 6th level.  There are a couple solid, useful spells, but nothing that really stokes the imagination to new heights of bold adventure.

1. Continual Light:  Sometimes Moldvay and Cook really like to confuse us.  The cleric version of Continual Light is similar to the magic-user version, but different in one important way: Whereas the 2nd level magic-user spell description clearly specifies that the illumination is not equal to full daylight, the 3rd level cleric spell explicity states that it is equal to full daylight, and that creatures which suffer penalties in daylight are subject to the same penalties within the area of Continual Light.  It mentions two creature types, goblins and undead, as being susceptible to penalties, but curiously no mention of a specific undead, the vampire.  Does clerical Continual Light force vampires to save or perish as sunlight would, or does that require actual sunlight, rather than just magical light as bright as sunlight?  I'd be strongly inclined to rule the latter, because it seems absurd to me that one of the most powerful undead in the game, and one of the most difficult to destroy, could be obliterated in a single round by a simple utility spell. 

In all other respects - range, area of effect, and permanent duration - the two versions are identical. 

The reverse, Continual Darkness, will block infravision as well as normal sight.  It's interesting to note that the magic-user version is stated to be identical to the cleric version here.

2. Cure Disease:  B/X D&D doesn't have many diseases built into the rules.  There's the non-specific disease that can be transmitted by giant rat bites, the rotting disease inflicted by the attack of a mummy, lycanthropy, and...that's about it.  There's no reason at all that a DM couldn't add diseases contracted in other ways, magical or mundane, but even without them, rats alone are common enough to make this spell occasionally necessary.  It's also effective against green slime. 

The description in the Expert Rules seems to suggest that it simply cures lycanthropy, but in the monster description for lycanthropes in the Basic Rules, it's stated that only a cleric of 11th level or higher can do so.  I like that restriction.  It keeps were-creatures and their disease much more threatening well into higher levels of play.

Mostly, there's not a lot of reason to memorize Cure Disease pre-emptively.  None of the standard D&D diseases are fatal in less than a day.  If somebody does get sick, you just choose Cure Disease the next day, and everything will be fine.  The notable exception is green slime, which dissolves the victim's body in a matter of a few rounds.  By the time the party is high enough level to have access to Cure Disease, though, they're probably savvy enough to avoid green slime, and have enough hp that the damage incurred by the victim in burning the slime off isn't likely to be fatal.

Interestingly, the spell has a range of 30'.  I guess clerics don't necessarily want to touch the diseased in order to heal them.

The reverse spell, Cause Disease, afflicts the target with a pretty heinous illness that causes the target to suffer -2 to all attack rolls, makes magical healing completely ineffective and natural healing take twice as long, and is outright fatal in 2d12 days if not cured with the standard spell.  At least it allows a saving throw.  Other than pure sadism, the only real reason to use Cause Disease in combat would be to prevent a tough opponent from being magically healed of damage.

3. Growth of Animal:  Most of the classic cleric spells have their origins in biblical tales.  I'm certainly no religious scholar, but I don't know where this one came from, or how it fits into the overall theme of cleric as pseudo-Christian holy crusader.  It seems like it would be more at home as a druidic spell, but B/X doesn't have druids.  So, anyway...

This spell doubles the size and strength of one normal, non-intelligent and non-fantastic animal.  If anyone in the party has a companion animal (not hard-coded into the B/X rules) it makes the animal more effective in combat, doubling its damage capability.  In the case of mounts and beasts of burden, doubled carrying capacity might be kind of handy, too.  The duration of 12 turns is decent, though not really long enough to carry a double-sized load of treasure back from the dungeon in most cases.  The range of 120' is kind of perplexing - I suppose there might be a reason why you'd want to enlarge an animal that far away from you, but none comes to mind at present.  All in all, it's kind of an underwhelming spell, especially for one of 3rd level. 

4. Locate Object:  Once again we have a cleric spell that's very similar to a magic-user spell of the same name, but not quite identical.  Unlike the M-U version, whose range scales with caster level, the cleric spell has a fixed range of 120'.  (At 6th level, the level necessary for a cleric to cast it, that range is incidentally exactly the same as the range a Locate Object spell cast by a 6th level magic-user would have.)  Its duration is expanded to 6 turns, three times the M-U spell's duration of 2 turns. 

(Aside:  I've always thought of the B/X versions of classic D&D spells being fairly non-fiddly, especially in relation to AD&D equivalents, but the differences I'm noticing between some of these identically-named magic-user and cleric spells seem to be sheer fiddliness for the sake of fiddliness.  I can't fathom the point of making durations and ranges differ from one to the other, or why one is scaled by level and the other fixed.)

Bottom line, the cleric spell gives you a little more time to wander around looking for that mental "tug" or whatever it is that alerts you that you're within range of the object of your search.  That makes it, in my estimation, marginally more useful, though still not as useful as I would want it to be.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

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

Once again, it seems a numbering error has crept into my spell roundup, but at least this time it's not (entirely) my fault, but that of the editors of the Moldvay Basic rules.  I'll get to that a bit later.  First, the tail end of the 2nd level magic-user spells...

9. Phantasmal Force:  I'm given to understand that the rather incongruous name of this spell comes from its fantasy wargaming origins, when it was Phantasmal Forces (note the plural), which apparently was used to create illusory units of troops. B/X, Phantasmal Force allows the caster to create an illusion of anything desired, so long as it fits within a 20' cube, up to 240' away.  It helps if the illusion is of something the caster has actually seen before.  Can the 20' cube in which the illusion is contained be moved within the 240' range of the spell?  The description doesn't say or strongly imply one way or the other, so DM's discretion.  Based on the choice of words of the spell description (it creates or changes appearances) I would assume that the illusions created with Phantasmal Force are visual only - no auditory, olfactory, or tactile sensations are included.  Illusions not used to attack disappear when touched.

Phantasmal force can be used as an attack spell, though any hit against AC9 dispels the illusion immediately, and all damage and other effects caused are strictly in the mind of the target.  It's a lot more useful as a tool of concealment, diversion, distraction, or misdirection.  An illusionary hazard - say, a pit or a wall - can dramatically alter the dynamics of a battlefield.  An illusionary bridge over a real chasm could send a few enemies tumbling into the abyss.  An illusion of something appealing can trick someone into touching something dangerous.  An illusion of something mundane can make foes pass right by without a second glance.  The possibilities are nearly limitless.  For some excellent advice on illusions, see these posts at Hack & Slash.

The caster must concentrate to maintain the spell, so no putting up an illusionary wall and then walking away or going to sleep.  Still, it's one of the most versatile spells a magic-user can know.

10. Web:  Exactly what it says on the tin, this spell fills a 10' cubic area with tough, sticky, spiderweb-like strands.  That's enough volume to block the average dungeon corridor, and most creatures will take 2-8 full turns to break through without burning the web.  (Fire destroys it in 2 rounds, and creatures with giant strength can also break through in 2 rounds.)  The primary use of the spell seems to be to trap opponents or to hinder their movement, but with a little creative thinking, it might have other uses.  For example, cast it across a pit or chasm 10' wide or less, then toss a little debris on the sticky top surface, and walk right across.  Or cast it as a safety net for a falling character.  Sure, it'll take some time and effort to cut him out, but at least he didn't go splat on the hard cold stone.

The spell lasts a full 48 turns (that's 8 hours!) so you could use it to blockade the entrance to a dead-end room and get a full night's rest, so long as enemies with fire don't happen along.  (And you could always suspend flasks of oil in the web's strands, so when the web burns, the flasks fall and break and ignite...)

11. Wizard Lock:  It's sort of billed as a more powerful version of Hold Portal, in that it will work on anything with a lock, instead of just a door.  The flip side of that criterion, of course, is that it has to have a lock, something which Hold Portal does not require.  Wizard Lock also has the virtue of being permanent.  The caster, or anyone using a Knock spell, can open the Wizard Lock without destroying it.  Magic-using characters three or more levels greater than the caster can open the Wizard Lock without the use of Knock, though whether or not this ends the spell isn't stated.  (I'd go with no, personally.) 

It would make sense for every magic-user who knows Wizard Lock to use it on every door, chest, wardrobe, cabinet, and other locking container he owns.  In the dungeon, it's not only good for securing doors behind you, but also for safeguarding surplus treasure from ordinary dungeon denizens until the party can come back for it, and for keeping cleared-out sections of dungeon relatively clear and secure from intrusions from unexplored areas.

Wizard Lock ought to have concluded the list of 2nd level magic-user spells, but wait a second...that's only eleven.  These go to twelve!  (Eat your hearts out, Spinal Tap.)  The reason for that, and why it's only partly my fault, is that I was reading through the spell descriptions, not the numbered spell lists.  It turns out, in the Moldvay Basic book, Detect Invisible appears at #3 on the spell lists, but there is no description given for it at all!  Suspecting something amiss with my PDF copy, I dug up my battered old print edition, and it isn't there either.  Huh.  So, referring instead to the Mentzer edition rules, I give you...

Detect Invisible:  This spell allows the caster to see invisible things at a range of 10' per level for 6 turns.  That's pretty much it.  I can see (or detect, if you will) why I never noticed the missing description in the Moldvay book.  For one, except for range and duration, everything about this spell is completely intuitive.  It lets you see things that are invisible.  You could play an entire campaign, even an entire gaming career, without ever looking it up.  Range?  Well, how far can you see normally?  Duration?  One encounter sounds about right. 

 The other reason why I never needed to look this one up is because, using standard memorize, fire, and forget spellcasting, nobody ever picked Detect Invisible.  Unless you have some reason to suspect that you're going to be facing opponents with the ability to become invisible, or your DM just has a penchant for using invisible enemies against you, there's no reason to take the spell at all.  It doesn't do anything else, and there's not much room for creative off-label uses, either.  It's potent within its niche, but it's such a narrow niche that memorizing it for an adventure is a huge gamble that's probably not going to yield any payoff. 

You could make Detect Invisible more enticing by using Invisibility more often, both on enemies and on treasure and other dungeon features.  Remember, it's effectively permanent until dispelled or the invisible creature attacks.  If the invisible thing is an object with no attacks, well...

Tip off players that this may be the case, using the expedient of rumors (I hear the evil wizard left the Ultimate Spellbook in there somewhere before he ran off and became a lich, but he turned it invisible so nobody would ever find it!)  Then make sure that some of those rumors are true, or that there's at least enough truth in them to make Detect Invisible pay off frequently enough to be worth it.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

NPC Sunday: Shostin Oakbarrel, smith

What,  haven't you ever seen a halfling blacksmith before?  Surely you knew they must exist.  The halflings can't rely on men and dwarves for all their iron work, after all.  Some of them even become good at it.

Shostin Oakbarrel is one of these, a halfling who spends his days around forge and anvil, hammering bits of iron into useful shapes.  He's been at it since he was a young halfling, knee-high to a dwarf, and has developed an almost dwarfish passion for the craft.  Of course, he still loves all the things that the typical halfling loves, too.  He's got appetite enough for any three ordinary halflings.  He loves to sing (loudly!) to the rhythm of hammer and bellows (and he's actually reasonably good at it.)  When the day's work is done, he wipes off the grime, puts up his furry feet, and enjoys a tankard of ale and a pipe.  He tends toward boisterousness, and being in the trade he is, he caters to a lot of adventurers and would-be adventurers and hears a good deal of gossip and rumors.  It doesn't take much coaxing to get him to talk, though he does tend to embellish.

Naturally, his chief occupation is in crafting tools, nails, horse shoes, and (most especially) the finest pots, pans, and cooking utensils, but he also pulls a decent traffic in small arms and armor.  He loves a challenge, so if an adventurer needs some special custom work done,  he's happy to take on the task.  He'll even make halfling-size plate, though why any self-respecting halfling would go around wearing his pots instead of cooking with them is quite beyond his ability to fathom.  

Appearance: Shostin is a halfling of middling years, a bit over average height, well-muscled from his years of work.  The hair on his head is cropped close; that on his feet is thick and luxurious.  He wears leather shoes while he works, because, as he'll tell you at length if you give him half a chance, halfling toe-hair is not fireproof.  Don't even ask about the well-healed but visible burn scars on his cheeks, unless you're prepared to hear a long and hilarious account of the dangers of sporting glorious muttonchops near a hot forge.

Stats: St 16 In 9 Wi 12 Dx 10 Co 14 Ch 10, AC 9, hp 5, AT hammer or hot iron Dam 1d4+2 (+1d4 fire damage if hot) AL L

Campaign role:  Shostin plies his trade in a settlement of humans or other halflings (DM's choice.)  PCs are likely to encounter him when they need weapons and armor, or when they need some special piece of metal equipment custom-made.  He also may seek out the PCs for aid in a long-running annual wager with the swordsmiths in several  neighboring settlements.  Every year, each smith sponsors an entrant in the sword lists of the local tourney, providing him a blade of exceptional workmanship.  Whichever smith's man (and sword) places highest wins bragging rights and whatever stake the smiths have agreed upon that year.  Should one sword break another, the smith who forged the broken sword buys the smith who made the breaking sword drinks for the next year.  Shostin's blade has broken another in three of the last six tourneys, much to the chagrin of the losers - his capacity for drink is a matter of local legend.  A PC fighter of good reputation may be asked to fight in the tourney on Shostin's sponsorship (or on that of one of his competitors.)  An adventuring party might also be hired to seek out forgotten secrets of swordmaking or rare ores for new alloys. 

PCs who are too loose with their tongues around the garrulous halfling might find that rival adventuring parties are unsettlingly knowledgeable about their plans.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

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

 A couple gems, and a couple head-scratchers here.

5. Knock:  Is it just me, or is there a correlation between the brevity of the spell description and the usefulness of the spell?  Door, chest, gate, box, trap door, book, or anything else that's made to open, Knock will open it, whether it's locked, stuck, barred, magically sealed, or whatever.  It's quicker, easier, and more versatile than a thief's Open Locks ability, but at the cost of being a limited resource, so there's no reason why the two can't peacefully coexist and supplement one another in a party.  Hey, it's got a range of 60', too, so you could safely open most trapped doors and containers.  (The spell description explicity states that it opens the door, chest, or whatever, rather than merely unlocking it.)  How about springing the buckle on the enemy fighter's sword belt or backpack strap?  Knock as combat spell?  Why not?  And between adventures, hangin' around the ol' tower, a magic-user with Knock in his repertoire need never fear the most stubborn pickle jar lid.

6. Levitate:  Another spell with a pretty simple description, and naturally one of my favorites.  It only facilitates vertical movement, but doesn't prohibit horizontal movement by some other means, such as pushing with one's hands along a ceiling.  Thus, presumably it doesn't halt horizontal momentum, so a caster under the effect of Levitate could take a running start, leap, and float an almost unlimited distance horizontally without changing direction (subject only to slowing by air resistance, and any solid objects in his path, of course.)  Almost nothing is out of reach to a magic-user with a Levitate spell handy.  It's also great for keeping the caster out of melee range in a fight, if the ceiling is high enough (though it may make him a blatantly obvious target for missile fire.)  Outdoors, it's the ultimate scouting spell - there's no need for a painstaking climb to the top of a mountain or tall tree to get your bearings - just cast and rise as high as you need.  Combine with Invisibility for stealthy reconnaissance of enemy territory.  The spell description specifies that the caster may carry a normal amount of weight, possibly including another character.  Besides the obvious, "another character" could conceivably include a captive - hoisting somebody up to 1,000 feet and threatening to drop him might be an effective method of interrogation.  As if all that isn't awesome enough, it's got a good long duration of 6 turns + caster's level, so even a level 3 magic-user (the minimum for casting 2nd level spells) gets a full 90 minutes of floaty goodness out of it.

7. Locate Object:  Let me get this straight: You can throw Sleep, one of the most potent attack spells in the rules, 240'.  You can make somebody invisible from 240' away.  But when you need to find something which presumably is difficult enough to find that you consider it worthwhile to expend a spell slot to find it, you're limited to 60' + 10' per caster level?  That's not completely useless - that range extends 360 degrees around the caster, so you're effectively "searching" a circle 120' + 20' per caster level across.   Still, it's an odd design choice, considering that range is a much more critical factor for this sort of thing than it is to the above-mentioned Sleep and Invisibility spells and others.  Its duration is a paltry 2 turns, so casting it and then wandering the dungeon waiting for your spider sense to tingle when you're near the desired object isn't a very viable strategy either. 

It would be great for finding the proverbial needle in a haystack - say, a small item in a cluttered hall - but not much use for finding a staircase in a megadungeon, unless you're already pretty close to a staircase.  (Curiously, finding a staircase is an example given in the spell description.) 

Expanding the range to yards outdoors (assuming you don't interpret the spell's range as an area of effect instead, which it kind of is,) Locate Object might be useful in town excursions to find desired goods in a crowded market or to track down the pickpocket who's just made off with your enchanted dagger.  In the wilderness, you might use it to try to find food, water, or some other resource, although the limited range relative to the vastness of the wilderness itself and its relatively short duration make that an uncertain prospect at best. 

At any rate, Locate Object lets you "search" for either a specific object, in which case you must know exactly what it looks like, or the nearest example of a general type of object (i.e. "dagger" or "stairase.")  The spell description pretty strongly implies that the item or type of item must be chosen when the spell is cast, and cannot be changed during the duration.

8. Mirror Image:  The visual effect sounds pretty cool, but I can't think of a lot of "outside the box" uses for this spell.  Essentially, it gives the caster a few (1d4) decoys which allow him to soak up a few attacks without being harmed.  What else is it good for?  I'm not sure.  Because the mirror images move exactly in synch with the caster, it's likely that intelligent creatures would know right away that the "extras" are not real and wouldn't be fooled into thinking they're facing greater numbers than they really are.  The images wouldn't even make good seat-fillers at the annual Mages' Guild Awards.  They might fool animals and low-intelligence creatures, though.  Maybe you could keep a pack of wolves at bay by bolstering the party's numbers with a few mirror images. 

The spell description doesn't explicitly say so, but the only range given for the spell is 0 (caster only) so I'm assuming the mirror images cluster fairly closely around the caster, and you can't project them any real distance. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

NPC Sunday: Tathred Lame-foot, beggar

Tathred Lame-foot, beggar

Outwardly, Tathred, or just Red to the locals, is a sad story wearing a cheerful face.  The club-footed youth, blind in his right eye, can always be found plying his meager trade at the edge of town on the main thoroughfare, sitting on the ground on a threadbare wool blanket.  He's an orphan, he says, with no surviving family, unable to work due to his infirmity, and every little bit helps.  Despite his bleak circumstances, he always has a bright greeting for passers-by, smiling gratitude for all who toss him a coin, and never a bitter word for those who hurry on with a tight fist on their coppers.

That veneer has won him the sympathies of most townsfolk, but beneath it is a tale rather less heartwarming.  He claims no surname, owing to his claimed orphan status, but in truth he was born to the Fenn family, a clan of fairly prosperous tradesmen and artisans a few towns over.  His club foot is a fraud, bulky wads of rags wrapped around a perfectly good leg, but he really was born with a blind eye.  That and his family's relative affluence afforded him a sheltered and coddled childhood.  When the time came for him to begin an apprenticeship and learn a trade of his own, he balked, and the more his family pressed him, the more bitterly he resisted.  At the age of 12 he ran away and discovered a world that did not cater to his whims and struggled against it, until, cold and desperate, he turned to begging and found that he had a certain knack for playing on the sympathies of strangers. 

In the three years since, he has also found useful connections among the corrupt elements of the town guard.  From his place at the roadside, he observes almost everyone who comes into town and passes along choice information to his confederates, who use the information to shake down, blackmail, or otherwise extract wealth from adventurers and traders.  In exchange, he gets the protection of the guards and a small cut of the take, more than enough to sustain his modest lifestyle.  He has a secret hideaway somewhere in an abandoned building, unknown even to the guards, where he lives a life of relative comfort for a beggar.  Other beggars tend to keep their distance from him; some resent the ease with which he plies potential marks, while others harbour suspicions ranging from the preposterous (he's a foreign prince in hiding from a cruel father, an acolyte serving a penance, or a demon in human form for some nefarious purpose) to surprisingly near the truth. 

As much as he likes easy wealth, it's the easy part that really appeals to him; his avarice is handily trumped by his laziness.  Push comes to shove, he's content with his lax existence, letting others do the heavy lifting and living off their crumbs, and isn't keen to upset this little gravy train simply for the sake of a little more silver.

Appearance:  Tathred is about 15 years old, small and skinny.  He dresses in rags, though astute observers might notice that they're not filthy rags, just moderately dirty.  One of his eyes is blue and the other is milky white; his dirty blond hair is bound under a red scarf which serves to reinforce his nickname.  On the threshold of adulthood, he typically sports a ratty fuzz of teenage facial hair around his winning, gap-toothed smile.

Stats:  St 9 In 11 Wi 7 Dx10 (appears to be 3) Co 12 Ch 15, AC 9, hp 2, AT crutch, Dam 1d4, AL N 
  He is capable of full normal movement rate should his life legitimately be in danger, but normally affects a limp at half speed or less, in keeping with his facade of infirmity.

Campaign role:  Characters are likely to meet Tathred when first entering or leaving town (depending on where they started out.)  If they're amenable, he'll banter with them while begging for coins, all the while sizing up their wealth and toughness.  A party returning laden from the dungeon will draw special notice.  He's more than happy to listen with all the wide-eyed enthusiasm of youth as they brag about their exploits and future plans, and then turn around and report whatever information he's gleaned to his cronies.  Later, the party is likely to be shaken down by the guard on pretense of collecting various taxes and fees, real and contrived, or their items seized as contraband or evidence of some imaginary crime being investigated.  Tathred will gladly pass along any rumors he hears about caches of loot to be gained in dungeon or wilderness.  If the party tends to set out with loads of expensive equipment, he might also deliberately feed them a few false rumors, setting them up to be ambushed by off-duty guards posing as bandits.   

What his family might do if they discovered his whereabouts and shameful habits is unknown.

Friday, March 21, 2014

B/X Spell Roundup: 2nd level magic-user spells, part 1

1. Continual Light:  Yes, it is a Light spell with infinite duration, but it's also a Light spell with double the area of effect - a 60' diameter sphere of illumination as opposed to 30' for the non-permanent version.

The permanence of the spell is a concern for some, especially if the game goes beyond mere dungeon crawling.  Why, for instance, would not every settlement, from village to city, be lit by lamps of Continual Light?  It costs the caster essentially nothing, and it lasts forever.  Simplest solution: house rule that a caster may only have one Continual Light active at a time; casting another immediately extinguishes the previous one.

The reverse, Continual Darkness, is as one might expect, identical to standard Darkness but with double the area of effect and permanent duration.

2. Detect Evil: This does exactly what the 1st level cleric spell of the same name does, but with half the range (60' instead of 120') and a third the duration (2 turns instead of 6.)  In fairness, good-and-evil stuff does seem to be more up the cleric's alley than the magic-user's, but then why isn't the reverse true for Detect Magic?

3. ESP:  Does anyone else find the name of this spell odd and/or awkwardly anachronistic?  I'm not sure what would be a better name - clairsentience, maybe?  Anyway...what we have here is your basic mind-reading magic.  It lets the caster "hear" the thoughts of a creature within 60', even from behind up to 2 feet of stone.  This takes a full turn, so you're not going to outflank an enemy in combat by reading its tactical thoughts or anything like that.  What the caster "hears" is at the DM's discretion, but probably includes such information as the creature's general disposition and state of mind.  The use of the verb "hear" describing how the magic-user accesses its thoughts seems to suggest that the thoughts are "heard" as the creature thinks them, perhaps narrated in the creature's own mental voice; thus, the caster doesn't have access to all the target's knowledge and memories, but only those actively being thought about.  The caster is magically able to understand the thoughts, regardless of the creature's language (or, presumably, lack thereof in the case of animals and such.)  No saving throw is allowed, and the target creature is not made aware of the mind-reading.

Obviously, ESP will tell you for certain whether there's a living creature behind that door in the dungeon (undead are immune, though, so beware!)  It's a big time ace-in-the-hole during negotiations - you can learn what the other side wants, how best to bribe/befriend/appease them, whether they're being honest or misleading you, and what their true intentions are.  Any party wishing to avoid trouble as often as possible (that's ALL the smart ones) should be ecstatic to have a magic-user with this spell in his repertoire.

One might wonder why this spell wouldn't be used in courts of law, at least in major cities and the strongholds of the nobility.  The streets may not exactly be teeming with 3rd level magic-users, but they're not that rare, either - there are bound to be at least a few within a ten-mile radius of a heavily-populated area.

4. Invisibility:  It's hard to be stealthier than when you're literally invisible, and as long as you refrain from attacking or casting further spells, you stay invisible forever.  Sneaking and spying are the most obvious uses, but the fact that it can be cast on an object instead of a creature opens up all sorts of intriguing possibilities.  Since objects generally don't attack or cast spells (except perhaps in the case of traps), the logical inference is that the invisibility is simply permanent until dispelled.  The spell description offers nothing more on the subject, so questions such as how big an object may be affected are left to the DM's judgment.  The chest with the most valuable treasure in the dungeon could be hidden in plain sight this way.  A bridge over a chasm might be made invisible.  With a broad enough interpretation of "object," perhaps the water in a pool could be made invisible so that it appears to be empty.  And that merchant who cheated the party last time they bought equipment in town - he'll NEVER find that dead fish you hid in his shop.

NPC magic-users could easily cast Invisibility on their undead or construct minions; left undisturbed, those minions might sit inert for centuries, waiting for intruders.

Interestingly, Invisibility has a range of 240'.  Off the top of my head, it seems like this makes it a great "rescue" spell if a front line fighter gets himself in trouble in combat - just zap him invisible from afar and he disappears right before the enemy's eyes.