Sunday, November 16, 2014

Oracular dice and the 1-hp orc

Well, here I am back at the ol' Flagon after another unscheduled anxiety and panic disorder-induced hiatus.  Nothing earth-shattering for my first post of November; just some musings on that tired old topic of what hit points mean.

A while back, there was a debate concerning orcs with 1 hit point, and how supposedly no orc warrior should have low hit points, because natural selection will favor the big, tough, 8-hp orcs.  I disagreed, for reasons that I couldn't really articulate, and so I held my silence on the matter, but now...

The assumption lurking in that analysis is that hit points are a permanent feature of a character or monster that describe inherent physical, mental, and spiritual qualities of that particular entity.  But D&D is a game of abstraction, and the dice are oracles that tell us things about the game - not only of the inherent physical qualities of the game world and its inhabitants, but dramatic and narrative properties of the emerging story as well. 

Well, what if hit points only exist when a creature is "on stage," that is, actively involved in an encounter?  That's implicitly the case in most campaigns, I think.  Events happen offstage, before adventures, after adventures, between adventures, and I've never in theory or in practice heard of DMs running these offstage events, rolling dice, tracking hit points, etc.  When the players hear a rumor that orcs decimated a mining village, nobody expects that the DM has previously statted up all the orcs and the villagers and run a combat to determine that this happened and how.  (And if you did: You have way too much time on your hands.) Hit points never even entered the equation.

Obviously, in most games, hit points are a permanent feature of player characters and major NPCs, and in such cases it's natural to expect that they represent inherent physical characteristics and skills, but if we can accept that a fighter's 14 hit points mean something different from a war horse's 14 hit points, then surely we can accept that hit points may have different meanings between the major characters of the campaign world and its no-name mooks?  (I'm given to understand that some DMs have players re-roll their characters' Hit Dice before each adventure, too; thus hit points are not necessarily permanent features of anyone or anything, but can represent all sorts of conditions that are not intrinsic to a character's body or mind.)

So.  Monster hit points may be rolled in advance and written into the dungeon key in anticipation of an encounter, or rolled on the spot as the encounter occurs, but they apply to the encounter at least as much as they do to the creature.  The orc with 1 hit point may be just as big and tough and nasty as any other orc, but by the oracular power of the dice, this orc is fated to make a lethal error the next time someone seriously threatens him in battle.  Maybe he'll zig when he should have zagged, or trip over a fallen weapon, or some other twist of ill fortune that has little to do with his genes or his muscles.  One hit point doesn't mean he's sickly, or that he'll die when he gets a splinter in his finger or turns an ankle.  One hit point means that when someone strikes him with a deadly weapon and intent to kill, it's not going to graze or nick him; it's going to strike true.  Our orc may have kicked all kinds of ass offstage.  He may have a necklace of the teeth of all the dwarves he's gutted, but the Polyhedral Powers of Providence have decreed that this orc's purpose in the game, in the chapter of the PCs' story in which he appears, is to serve as a glorious splatter when somebody hits him.

If the orc bucks the odds and survives his bout of bad luck (i.e. nobody hits him in combat and his side wins or escapes or surrenders) there's no reason why he necessarily has to have 1 hp if he should appear again.  Who's to say that the orc the party encounters later, who has 8 hp, isn't the 1 hp bastard who speared their henchman and bolted two weeks earlier?  (Nobody keeps track of mooks, so it likely doesn't matter anyway, but theoretically, why not?)

Ironically, the point of this post was to show, by completely overthinking things, that it's not necessary to overthink the roll of the dice.  You don't need to analyze what 1 hit point means for the genetic lineage of the orcish race, or try to weight the dice to produce superior orcs, or anything like that.  Just roll the bones, and let the pips tell the story.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A punny but useful spell

Sometimes a stray thought like this takes an inordinately strong hold on my mind, and there's nothing to be done but to write it out and post it, for your amusement/annoyance.

Magic Morsel (Magic-user, level 1)

Range: 120'
Duration: 1 turn

This spell creates a morsel of whatever food is most delectable to a chosen monster type within range.  The caster may cause the food to appear anywhere within the spell's range.  Non-intelligent monsters will always stop to eat the food, unless some other instinct is more pressing (e.g. the PCs are carrying off a mother bear's cub.)  Intelligent monsters will choose whether to stop for the food depending on the particular circumstances.  The food disappears after 1 turn.  It does not satisfy the creature's hunger or nutritional needs.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pondering an alternative combat system

For a while now, I've been mulling an idea that has its roots in Brendan's Necropraxis post on Monologic Combat with a sprinking of my own musings from way back on level-scaled combat.  Not sure I'll ever actually use it, but I thought I'd throw it out there for consideration and comment.

The gist of it is that when two creatures fight, instead of rolling for each to hit, only one roll is made, and there's a winner and a loser.  Regardless of the results of the roll, somebody's gonna get hurt.  The winner deals damage, and the loser takes damage.

Why this appeals to me:
  • Obviously, no wasted rounds.  No more double-whiffs when both sides fail their attack rolls.  Every round counts.
  • Instead of two fighters hacking at each other for a round, one of them gets a decisive upper hand during that round, and the other is put on the defensive, struggling just to survive.  Next round, fortunes might reverse.  This feels more natural to me, and more evocative, imparting a sense of ebb and flow rather than the toe-to-toe pitched battle depicted in standard combat.  
  • The winner-take-all results each round are dramatic and easy to narrate in a colorful and exciting way.  One fighter capitalizes on the other's mistake to claim the advantage.  A fighter battling a giant either dances away from the monster's attack and slips inside its defenses to stab at it, or is batted aside by the giant's mighty club. 
  • It feels clearer that an attack roll does not represent a single swing, but an entire round of maneuvers, thrusts, parries, wary circling, etc.
  • A fighter can hold his own in combat against a foe he can't hurt.  Say he's wielding an ordinary sword, and in melee against a wight.  Under standard rules, he makes his completely ineffectual attack and then waits for the wight to attack and hopes it doesn't hit him.  With this rule, he makes the single combat roll between the two of them, and if he wins, he holds the monster off.  That sounds a lot more interesting to me.
  • It merges offense and defense as a single function of a character's class and level, instead of the dichotomy of level-based offense against static defense.
The basis of the system is a simple stat I call Combat Rating (CR,) which is equal to the character or creature's bonus to attack (derived by subtracting its THAC0 from 20; for most monsters this is simply equal to Hit Dice) plus Dexterity modifier, plus the +1 modifier for a shield, if used.  If the character is unarmed, its CR is reduced by 2 points.  (A shield or a makeshift weapon negates this penalty, as do natural attack forms such as claws, teeth, horns, etc.)  When a character enters melee combat with an opponent, the player makes the combat die roll on 1d20, adding the character's Combat Rating and subtracting the opponent's CR.  On a total of 11 or higher, the PC wins.  On a 10 or lower, the opponent wins.  (Two evenly matched opponents would each have a 50% chance to win any given round.)  Winner rolls damage and applies it to the loser's hit points.  A natural 20 always goes to the PC, and a natural 1 always goes to the opponent.  Armor reduces damage: 1 point for light (leather or padded), 2 points for medium (mail or scale), 3 points for heavy (plate), to a minimum of 1 point. Strength bonuses do not apply to the combat roll, but do increase damage.

If a character or creature is meleed by more opponents than it has attacks, it chooses which to apply its attacks.  All others attack it with a -2 penalty to its CR - they are not threatened by its attacks, and so can attack more aggressively with relative impunity.  If they win, they inflict damage, but the defender inflicts no damage if it wins.  (Optional: the defender inflicts damage if its defense roll is a natural 20.)

Characters or creatures with multiple attacks can either concentrate them on a single opponent or spread them among several.  Attacks spread among several opponents are resolved normally.  If focused on one opponent, only one roll is made, as usual, and if it succeeds by a certain margin, the additional attacks succeed and score damage.  Say, if the adjusted roll is 16 or higher, a second damage die is rolled.  On a total score of 20, a third die, and at 23 a fourth.  The Damage Reduction from armor is applied to each damage roll.  (Reversed for monsters, so two attacks succeed on a roll of 5 or less, three on a 1, and four on an adjusted total of -2 or lower.)  Thus, an inferior opponent is less likely to deal extra damage to a superior one, and a superior one is more likely to deal extra damage to its inferior. Note that if the attacks are not concentrated on one opponent, no single opponent may be subjected to more than one.  If a creature with three attacks fights two opponents, it can either focus all three attacks on one of them, or use one on each and lose the third.

Monsters would do base damage based on the sum of all their attacks divided by the number of attacks.  For instance, a monster with three attacks capable of a maximum of 24 points per round would do damage of 1d8 or 2d4 per successful attack, even if in the rules-as-written it does a claw/claw/bite routine for 1d6/1d6/2d6.  Monsters' Damage Reduction would need to be deduced from the monster's AC and description; some might well have DR greater than 3.

Tactical options that work particularly well with this system include:

Set spear: Interposing a spear or other weapon with reach gains a +4 bonus to CR against a single opponent, if that opponent has not yet closed to melee.  The bonus applies until the opponent manages to make a successful attack, or until the spear-bearer lets his guard down.  A character with multiple attacks may maintain this guard against multiple opponents.

Reckless attack: The combatant using this tactic hurls itself at its opponent heedless of the other's attacks.  If it loses the roll by two points or less, then both combatants inflict damage on each other.  This tactic is often used by mindless undead, enraged or berserk creatures, creatures immune to the opponent's attack, heavily armored creatures, and those with a lot more hit points to spend than the opponent.

Guard: The combatant gains +2 to all combat rolls applying to it that round; if successful no damage is inflicted by either combatant.

Grapple: Instead of an armed attack, the combatant tries to grapple the opponent, and succeeds on a winning combat roll.  Losing one roll results in being grabbed, two is taken down, and three is pinned.  This could also be modified for climbing on huge opponents.
Surprise attack:  The target does not apply its CR to the combat roll and suffers a -2 penalty, and inflicts no damage if it wins the roll. 

Insubstantial attacker: An attacker able to ignore solid matter, such as a wraith, is unhindered by armor, and its damage is not reduced unless the armor is magical.  Additionally, unless the opponent has a weapon capable of harming it, the monster attacks as if the opponent were unarmed. May be combined with Reckless Attack.

Seizing momentum:  Winning two or more rounds consecutively gives the aggressor a +1 bonus to CR for each round after the first, to a maximum of +4. Resets when the defender wins a round, or when contact is broken or another combatant enters the fray on the defender's side.

It should also work well with Simple Combat Maneuvers.

One potential down side of this method is that, since normally only one combatant of a pair inflicts damage in a given round, fights tend to last a bit longer than they otherwise would.  This only gets worse at higher levels.  Equally matched opponents each have a 50% chance of dealing the other damage in each round, regardless of their levels.  A pair of 10th level fighters do no more damage to each other on average than a pair of 1st level fighters, but they have a lot more hit points.  In the rules as written they both hit each other more often, increasing their expected damage per round.  I'm not sure whether or not this amounts to a significant problem.  One possible solution is to flatten hit point totals for characters and monsters, to reflect the overall reduced damage potential. It might also be mitigated somewhat by making damage dice "explode" on a roll of max damage.

Another possible problem is magic armor. Since it no longer affects the chances to be hit, what does it do?  Increasing DR even a point or two is a lot more powerful than a similar bonus to AC.  One possibility is to make the magical bonus effective only against the pluses of magical weapons.  Armor +1 counters sword +1, but does not affect a normal sword.  Perhaps magical armor confers some protection from purely magical attacks such as spells or wands.  As suggested above, magical armor protects against the attacks of creatures that ignore non-magical armor.

There are probably still some kinks and bugs I haven't addressed, but that's the rough idea.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hit Dice modifiers: More useful than you (or TSR) thought

One of the conventions of D&D that I always found kind of weird and inexplicable is the practice of adding hit points to a creature's Hit Dice (or in very rare cases, subtracting them.)  An ogre, for instance, is listed in B/X as having 4+1 HD.  What exactly is the purpose of giving it one measly hit point more than the roll of the dice?  Meanwhile, the goblin gets 1-1 HD, want it to be a little weaker than the orc?  A few creatures get bigger modifiers, but even so, a bonus of 3 hp is pretty trivial to a troll with 6 HD.

Of course, a creature with a plus to its Hit Dice attacks on the next higher line of the combat matrix - in mathematical terms, it gets a +1 bonus to attack.  And creatures less than one full HD attack on a line below the 1 HD line - in effect, a -1 penalty to its attack rolls.

This is potentially a much more useful and game-changing application of HD adjustments than simply adding or subtracting a hit point or two from a monster's total, and one that the game's designers sadly failed to fully appreciate and develop. 

One thing D&D doesn't do very well is model the classic mismatch between size and coordination.  Fiction and real life are full of examples of big, tough people and creatures that are ponderous and awkward on the attack, and fragile speedsters who strike with uncanny precision but can't endure much of a beating themselves.   Hit Dice modifiers are a good way to stretch the system so that it can model that type of monster, though.  All we need to do is expand the rule a bit, so that instead of a flat +1 jump on the combat matrix for any addition to HD, you give a bonus or penalty equal to the modifier.  A creature with 4+3 HD thus attacks as a 7 HD monster, and one with 2-2 HD attacks as less than 1 HD.  This method gains you a little freedom from the direct correlation between monster size and toughness and its skill in battle, without having to add another statistic to a creature's stat block.

Say you want a massive, ponderous beast that can take a pounding before it keels over, but is slow and ungainly in its attacks. Give it a high base HD, with a hefty minus - say, 8-4 HD.  It still has a good pool of hit points - anywhere between 4 and 60, with an average of 32 - but it attacks with the same probabilities as a much weaker 4 HD monster. 

Or perhaps you want a small, nimble creature that slips past an opponent's defenses with lightning speed.  You could give it 1/2 +3 HD, for a total of 4 to 7 hp.  That's fairly fragile, but the thing attacks with the proficiency of a 3 HD monster (that's a THAC0 of 17 - as good as a 4th level fighter in B/X or BECMI.) You can take it out in one or two hits, but until you do, it's going to carve you up.

In this way, you can design big monsters suitable for low-level parties, and small monsters that can challenge more powerful parties, without having to make them much more fragile or durable than you want.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The tight spell lists of classic D&D

Magic is an integral - some would say indispensible - part of fantasy stories and fantasy role-playing games.  Sure, you can have a medieval game without magic, but it loses a significant element of the fantastic.  Even games that bar player characters from being spell-casters often do so not to expunge magic from the game entirely, but to keep it beyond the understanding of the players - to keep it wild and fantastic and fearsome.

I like magic in my game.  I like for the players to be able to choose to run spell-casting characters if they want to.  But I also like for magic to be magical - wild and fantastic and fearsome - as much as it can be without making it the province of DM and NPCs only.  That's why I like the tight spell lists of B/X and BECMI D&D - at least as a foundation upon which to build.

There is, it's true, a lot to like about the massive variety of spells in AD&D, as well as various supplements.  They can add a lot of flavor to the campaign milieu, and utility to characters, both PC and NPC.  They can serve this purpose without being added to the standard spell lists.

The tight lists of 12 magic-user spells and 8 cleric spells per spell level are the ones that are most commonly known.  Not every spell caster will know every spell, but most are at least aware of the existence of these spells.  If you don't know Phantasmal Force, you at least know that there is such a spell, and that with a little determination you can probably ferret out a source from which to learn it.  They're the magical meat and potatoes of the campaign.  They allow for a good diversity of functions, and the campaign will survive just fine on a steady diet of them.

Beyond those lists is the whole kitchen sink of spells, every one that's ever caught your eye in another rule set, or an adventure module or supplement, everything that you might devise from your own imagination, whatever you might fancy dropping into your current game world.  Rather than dumping them into the mix wholesale, you carefully pick and choose which ones fit, and where they'll be found. 

There could be any number of explanations why those non-list spells are so rare and obscure.  Perhaps the civilization that invented them fell and the knowledge was lost.  Perhaps they're leftover "beta" versions of common spells that fell out of favor with the discovery of new versions, with surprising bugs and maybe even a few forgotten utilities.  Maybe they were invented by wizards who keep their secrets close to the vest.  Maybe they're banned by the king, the church, or the mages' guild, for reasons ethical, spiritual, or commercial.  (The flimsiest pretense will do - look at the historical reasons in our real world for banning all kinds of things.)  Maybe they can be learned only by dangerous rituals or pilgrimages to sacred or magical sites, or by using ancient devices that project knowledge directly into the caster's mind. Some of them might even have inhuman origins, and can be learned only from dragons or fairies or demons or what-have-you; humans might be able to understand them well enough to memorize and cast them, but not well enough to teach them to another human.

These are the spells that you give judiciously to NPC opponents or allies to make them more menacing or mysterious.  These are the ones you place very rarely in treasure troves to get your spell-casting PCs excited.  These are the ones the players might hear about in rumors, motivating them to undertake expeditions and quests to obtain them.  These are the spells that might convey all sorts of interesting implications about the campaign world and its societies and history.  These are the spice that you add to the dish of meat and potatoes.  They're not essential, but a sprinkling of them adds interest and versatility. 

From a pragmatic perspective, a scheme consisting of a small staple list and a universe of supplemental stuff provides the ease and convenience of the former, while allowing you the freedom to tempt or bedevil your players with more exotic stuff as needed, and as suits the particulars of the campaign and the world in which it takes place.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Dungeon mapping with

A few weeks back, I made it to the finals of the "So You Want to be an OSR Superstar" contest at Tenkar's Tavern, and was faced with the task of completing a map.  Normally I draw my maps by hand, with pencil and graph paper, old school style, but this time the map had to be in a format able to be submitted by email.  I don't have a scanner, so the most viable option was to draw the map in digital form right on the computer - a daunting prospect.  There was nothing to do but roll up my sleeves, figuratively speaking, and teach myself how to use image editing software to draw a serviceable dungeon map.  Along the way, I rediscovered the joy of mapping, and learned a few tricks, which I will now proceed to share in the form of this little tutorial.

I use, because it's free, and because it has a few features that are handy in drawing basic dungeon maps. If you don't already have it, get it here

Step 1: Find your background image, and open it with  I'm using a plain graph paper background for this project, but you could just as easily use a parchment or stone background, or whatever else appeals to you.  You could even use both a decorative background and a graph paper grid by layering the graph paper over the decorative background, and adjusting the Opacity setting on the graph paper layer so the layer underneath shows through it.

Pretty exciting so far, huh?
Step 2: Add more layers.  You'll see the Layers tab on top near the left side of the screen.  Click it and choose Add New Layer.  You'll want layers for rooms and corridors, dungeon details, room numbers, and optionally a path sketch of the dungeon.  This way, if you screw up something in one layer, you can erase it relatively easily without endangering the rest of your work.

Now, click on each layer in the small Layers window that will appear somewhere in the lower right of your screen.  Go back up to the Layers tab at the top of the screen, and select Layer Properties.  Here you can name your layers, which is important for keeping things straight.  You can also set the transparency of layers, which can be useful in just a bit...

Step 3 (optional):  On a blank layer, use the paintbrush tool (set at a size of about 4 or 5) to sketch out a rough path showing routes through the dungeon.  I find this to be a good way of laying things out in a rough sort of way, without being too concerned about perfection yet.  Once you do that, go back to the Layer Properties menu and turn the Opacity setting down, around 50 or so.  This makes the path grid lighter and less obtrusive when you go to draw your actual dungeon rooms and corridors.

Not the finest example of Jaquaying the dungeon, but you get the gist.

Step 4: Draw the rooms and corridors!  A line width of about 3 works well for this.  Make sure you activate your rooms and corridors layer before you start.  You can draw freehand with the paintbrush tool, draw straight lines with the line and curve tool (and drag the points on the line to stretch it into a curve), draw rectangles, ellipses, triangles, trapezoids, and more with the shape tool.  Rotate as desired using the arc-with-arrows icon that appears near the object.  Make sure you get the sizes right and the lines all lined up the way you want them.  After creating each element, you can grasp it by the four-way arrow that appears near the object and drag them around to place them just right.  Once you move on to the next thing, though, it's set in stone.  If you want to change it after that, you'll have to use Undo in the Edit menu.  If you do several things in between, you'll have to go back and Undo them sequentially to get to the one you really wanted to change, so it's worth getting it right the first time if you can.  Make sure all your lines meet with no gaps.

Most of the rooms here are drawn with the appropriate shape tool.  The rectangular rooms with one rounded side are drawn with the line tool, and the final wall is stretched into a curve by dragging the points on the still-selected line.

Don't worry that the doorways are blocked.  There's an eraser for that.

Step 5: Use the eraser tool to remove any superfluous lines.  Zoom in close to do the job right!  Use many clicks rather than holding down the mouse button the whole time.  If you mess up, you can Undo each click separately, without losing all your progress.

Step 6: Fill in the empty space.  Use the bucket fill tool, and select whatever texture pleases you from the Fill bar at the top of the screen.  I like Large Confetti for solid rock.  Click every null space between your rooms.  If the fill pattern spills into your rooms or corridors, Undo and zoom in to check for gaps in your lines.  Turning down the Tolerance slider next to the Fill bar will help to keep the fill from leaking through tiny gaps, too.

Step 7: Activate your path sketch layer (if you have one) and make it invisible by unchecking it.  Now activate the details layer, and add doors, statues, fountains, stairs, and whatever else your dungeon needs.  You can draw them individually, or open up another window and create icons - little rectangles for doors, circles with stars in them for statues, etc.  Crop as closely as you can around the icons.  Save them, then go to the folder where they're saved, find the one you want, right click and select Copy.  Go back to the screen with your map on it, and select Paste from the Edit menu.  Your icon should appear on the screen.  You'll probably need to resize it.  Once that's done, drag it to where you want it using the four-way arrow, and adjust the orientation if necessary by clicking and dragging on the arc with arrows that appears next to it.  Now, while it's still selected, go to the Edit menu and click on Copy.  Now click Paste, and you've created an exact duplicate of your icon, which you can drag and reorient to use in another location.  Keep doing this to make all your doors, statues, and such uniform in size and shape.  Make sure you get all the items of one type placed before you move on to the next one. 

Use the brush tool with a width of 1 to draw stairs, daises, and similar details.  Use single dabs of the brush with a wide setting for pillars.

Use the text tool for secret doors.  Click near the place the door belongs and make an S, then drag it into position.  For horizontally oriented secret doors, rotate the map clockwise 90 degrees using the Image menu, place your S, then rotate it back 90 degrees counterclockwise.

Step 8: Activate the room numbers layer.  Click on each room, type the room number, and drag the number where you want it in the room.

Step 9: On the file menu, select Save As.  Name your map, and choose a format other than .pdn, such as jpeg or png.  The program will ask you if you want to flatten the layers down into one.  Do so.  Your map is now ready for printing!

If you want to save before finishing the map, use the program's native .pdn format, which preserves the layers.

Just add monsters and treasure.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What else can the cleric do with Turn Undead?

During my overhaul of the B/X cleric spell lists, I noticed some gaps, things that I didn't care to address with new spells (or importing old ones) but that clerics ought to be able to do.  Most of them involve the dead or undead.  As it turns out, they're rather elegantly addressed by creative applications of the Turn Undead ability.

Animate Dead:  B/X has an Animate Dead spell on the magic-user lists, but no spell for making animated skeletons and zombies is present in the cleric lists.  While such a spell did make it into the BECMI edition of classic D&D, it seems suited primarily for evil clerics.  Generally, the "evil" versions of cleric spells are the reversed versions, but this one is neither "good" or "neutral" in its standard form, nor does it have a reversed version, making it a bit of an oddball. 

Instead, let's make it a reversed Turning roll.  Turn skeletons to animate skeletons, and turn zombies to animate corpses with the flesh still on the bones.  Number of Hit Dice of undead created is equal to the Hit Dice that would be turned by a standard turning roll.  The Mentzer edition Animate Dead spell includes guidelines for animating corpses larger than human.  When using a Turn roll to animate larger bodies or skeletons, just roll against the type of undead that has a similar number of Hit Dice.  A skeleton has the same HD as the creature did in life, while a zombie has one more HD.

Obviously, moderate to high level clerics are certain to succeed at the attempt.  The real limiting factors are the availability of suitable corpses - those complete enough to function effectively when animated, but not barred from reanimating by Last Rites (see below) - and the cleric's willingness to animate undead in numbers beyond his or her ability to directly control them (see below.)

Last Rites:  One of the cleric's primary duties is to perform last rites over the dead, that they may rest in peace.  In game terms, that means rendering the corpses and spirits of the deceased unable to be animated or otherwise return as undead.  A roll that will turn zombies prevents a body from being animated by the Animate Dead ability.  When a character is slain by an undead that causes its victims to rise as undead of the same type, a successful Turn roll against that type before the dead person rises will prevent it.  If desired, this roll may be made by the DM in secret, and success is only apparent when the corpse or spirit fails to rise again.

Summon Undead:  Sometimes a cleric may want to summon undead creatures.  In that case, make a Turn roll, and consult the notes for the location.  If undead are present, compare the roll to the undead type.  A successul roll means that a number of Hit Dice of undead equal to the number normally turned are drawn to the cleric's call.  The cleric may try to call for a specific type of undead, or even a specific individual.  Intelligent and unwilling undead may make a saving throw vs. spells to ignore the summons.  May also be used for seances and similar rituals.

Control Undead:  Evil or necromantically-inclined clerics may wish to control the undead created or summoned.  A successful Turn roll can be used to control a number of HD of undead equal to the number normally turned.  That's all the undead the cleric can actually control at once.  If more are created or summoned, the excess undead remain uncontrolled.

Raise Dead:  The cleric can attempt to summon the spirit of a deceased person back to reinhabit its body.  The body must be relatively intact.  The roll is made vs. a vampire; if the turning roll fails, the resurrection goes horribly wrong, and the person rises as a vampire.  Note that the roll is made even if the table indicates a T or D result, and a natural roll of 2 always fails.  Because of this dire risk, most good churches frown upon the raising of the dead.

Monday, August 4, 2014

B/X Spell List Overhaul: Cleric spells, level 5

In B/X, cleric spells top out at 5th level, so this brings us to the end of the line for the cleric lists.  These are the heavy artillery of the cleric class, and thankfully, there's not a lot to tweak or weed out.  As always, italics indicate a spell that has been changed from the original in some way, and bold italics denote a new spell of my own creation.

  1. Commune
  2. Create Food
  3. Dispel Evil
  4. Heavenly Choir*
  5. Insect Plague
  6. Part Water
  7. Quest
  8. United Will

4. Heavenly Choir*

Range: 0
Duration: 1 round

This spell calls forth a wordless choir of angelic voices and a ray of pure white light from above, washing outward from the cleric in all directions to a radius of 30'.  All allies within the area are immediately healed of 1d6+1 points of damage, while undead and evil creatures suffer a like amount of damage.  Additionally, there is a 5% chance per level of the cleric for any affliction suffered by allies within the area of effect to be cured.  This includes sleep, fear, paralysis, poison, disease, curses, blindness, petrification, polymorph, and charm effects, but not energy drains nor Quest and Geas spells.  This chance is checked once per affliction per creature.  Thus, an ally suffering from paralysis and disease checks once for each.  A second ally suffering from paralysis would have to check again, separate from the first creature's check.

The reversed spell, Infernal Choir, produces a demonic chanting and a wave of darkness.  The spell causes 1d6+1 points of damage to all hostile good or neutral creatures in range, while healing undead and evil creatures of a like amount.  The caster may choose to inflict disease (as a mummy), fear (as the reverse of the Remove Fear spell), paralysis (as Hold Person), or a curse (as reverse of Remove Curse) on all enemies within 30', with a saving throw vs. spells being allowed for each target to resist the effect.

6. Part Water

Taken from the 6th level magic-user spell lists.  I have no idea why this was placed there, when parting the sea is quite clearly the province of the cleric, not the magic-user.

8. United Will

Range: 30'
Duration: 1 turn

By means of the Chain of Will spell, the cleric and one other character per three levels of experience become linked.  Whenever any of the characters linked is forced to make a saving throw or other roll to resist a harmful spell or effect, each one rolls, and if only one succeeds, the initial target resists the effect.  However, if all fail, then all are affected.  For example, a 9th level cleric casts this spell to link himself with three other party members.  An enemy magic-user casts Charm Person on the fighter, who fails his saving throw.  However, the other three members of the party also receive a saving throw, and if any one of them succeeds, the charm is resisted.  If all fail, then all are charmed.


Raise Dead:  To be brutally honest, I just don't like spells that make death cheap, and I don't want them in my campaign.  Of course, your mileage may vary.

B/X Spell List Overhaul: Cleric spells, level 4

We're getting up into the higher echelons of B/X clerical magic now.  No altered descriptions of standard spells this time, but three new ones and an import from Labyrinth Lord.

  1. Create Water
  2. Dispel Magic
  3. Invulnerability*
  4. Leap of Faith
  5. Neutralize Poison
  6. Privacy Ward
  7. Protection From Evil 10' Radius
  8. Tongues

1. Dispel Magic

Exactly as the 3rd level magic-user spell of the same name.  (B/X does not include Dispel Magic in the cleric spell lists, but BECMI does.  It seems fitting that a cleric should be able to dispel potentially blasphemous spells.)

3. Invulnerability*

Range: 60'
Duration: 1 round per level

The spell of Invulernability may be cast on the cleric himself or on one other creature within range.  For the duration of the spell, the subject is immune to damage from non-enchanted weapons.  The spell does not confer immunity to cold, fire, lightning, poison, or acid, whether normal or magical, nor to the attacks of creatures with 8 or more Hit Dice.  The immunity does extend to normal physical traps, such as darts, blades, and falling rocks.

The reversed spell, Vulnerability, cancels a creature's immunity to normal weapons for the duration of the spell. No saving throw is allowed.

4. Leap of Faith

Range: 240'
Duration: Concentration

With a Leap of Faith, the cleric calls into being some non-living, non-magical object, which exists only for those who have faith in its existence.  The object must be of a type the cleric has seen before, and must fit entirely within a space of a 20'x20'x20' cube.  The caster automatically has faith in the existence of the object, but other observers must succeed at a saving throw vs. spells to believe.  Those of the same religious faith as the caster gain a +4 bonus to the save.  Those who believe in the object may interact with it as if it were real.  Thus, a ladder may be climbed, a bridge may be crossed, a boat may be boarded, or a pool of water at the bottom of a cliff may break one's fall.  Those who do not believe will see those who do seemingly interacting with thin air in ways that defy reason.  The objects created by the spell simply do not exist for them, and any attempt to use them will fail accordingly.
 The spell lasts as long as the cleric concentrates on it.  The level of concentration required is fairly light, allowing the cleric to move at half speed and defend himself, but not to attack or cast additional spells. 

6. Privacy Ward

Range: 0
Duration: 1 turn per level

When the Privacy Ward spell is cast, an area up to 30' in diameter centered on the cleric is shielded from detection.  The cleric may choose a smaller diameter if desired.  For the duration, the area is undetectable to scrying magic, including ESP, clairvoyance, and crystal balls.  In addition, the spell causes creatures outside the warded area to ignore those within it, similarly to the level 1 Sanctuary spell.  Characters or creatures actively searching for the cleric or associates must make a saving throw vs. spells, with failure indicating that they simply do not notice anything amiss in the warded area.  Others will only enter the warded area if they have some specific reason to do so unrelated to the cleric and his or her party, i.e. a known watering hole is within the warded area or a known path runs through it.  Random encounter checks are reduced to half normal chances while the ward is in effect.

8. Tongues* (adapted from Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion)

Range: 0 (cleric only)
Duration: 1 turn

For the duration of the spell, the cleric can understand and speak the spoken language of any and all intelligent creatures in a 30' radius circle.  The spell does not allow comprehension of written language.

The reversed spell, Garble, makes spoken language of any sort incomprehensible within a 30' radius circle.  It may be projected to a range of up to 60', so that the caster need not be caught within the area of effect.  Spell casting is not affected.

Out to pasture:

Cure Serious Wounds: Rendered superfluous by the level-scaling catch-all Cure Wounds spell, here.

Speak With Plants: Here's another one that belongs on a druid list.  It just doesn't fit my concept of a traditional cleric.

Sticks to Snakes: See above. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

B/X Spell List Overhaul: Cleric spells, level 3

Here's another revised spell list that ended up substantially altered from its B/X origins.  As before, italicized spells have been tweaked from the original versions, bold denotes spells adapted from other editions or clones, and bold italics indicate a new spell of my own creation.  Asterisks indicate a reversible spell.

  1. Circle of Truth
  2. Cure Disease*
  3. Holy Flame*
  4. Locate Object
  5. Remove Curse*
  6. Sacred Oath
  7. Speak with Dead
  8. Spiritual Bond

1. Circle of Truth

Range: 0
Duration: 3 turns

For the duration of this spell, no creature within a 15 foot radius of the cleric may knowingly tell a lie.  Those within the circle are aware of the compulsion, and may choose to remain silent rather than speak the truth, or evade answering a question or omit details, so long as they believe everything they actually utter to be true.  Note that the spell affects all creatures, friend or foe, within its area, including the cleric himself.

3. Holy Flame

Range: Touch
Duration: 3 turns or special

When cast on a weapon, the Holy Flame spell calls forth an aura of white fire from the weapon, causing an extra 1d6 points of damage to any undead or evilly enchanted creature, and any adherent of an evil faith.  In addition, the wielder of the flaming weapon is able to Turn Undead as a cleric of 2nd level; if the wielder is a cleric, he or she turns as if two levels higher than his or her actual level. While the spell lasts, the weapon sheds light as the 1st level Light spell, and blazes more fiercely the closer it is to evil creatures.

The spell may also be cast on a normal combustible material, such as firewood or oil.  The Holy Fire used in this way must remain stationary, but actively radiates the Turn Undead power of the cleric who cast it in a 30' radius.  Non-undead evil creatures feel nauseated and uneasy within the light's radius, suffering a -2 penalty to all actions.  The spell lasts as long as the fuel, e.g. if cast on a pile of wood that would normally burn for 4 hours, then the spell lasts 4 hours.  The maximum duration is 3 turns per level of the caster.

The reverse, Unholy Flame, produces a sooty, blood red flame.  It causes extra damage to living and good creatures, and permits the wielder to control undead rather than turn them.

When cast in stationary form, Unholy Flame calls all undead creatures within a 240' radius to converge upon it.  It causes the same uneasiness in good creatures that the normal form inflicts on evil ones.

4. Locate Object

The range is increased to 240'; otherwise, the spell functions as described in the Expert Rules.

6. Sacred Oath

Range: 10'
Duration: 1 day per level

By administering a Sacred Oath, the cleric binds a living creature to fulfill its word.  The Oath can be to take some action, or to refrain from taking an action.  In either case, contemplating breaking the Oath causes the subject to feel a great unease and anxiety.  Actually breaking a Sacred Oath causes the faithless creature to be cursed in a manner specified in the wording of the oath itself.  A character who swears, "I will not reveal the location of the treasure, may I be struck blind if I do," will find himself blinded.  The Oath may be as simple or as complex as desired, and may include time constraints.  If the subject makes a sincere effort to fulfill the Oath but fails, the conditions are still considered to be met, and the curse does not take effect.  Only a subject who willingly swears the oath is bound by it.  An oath sworn under threat of bodily harm is invalid; for example, if the cleric or his allies threaten to kill the character or someone important to him if he does not swear, the Oath has no effect.  However, the cleric may make offers of aid contingent upon taking the Oath without violating this condition, even if refusing to render aid would result in injury or death.  If aid is promised, however, it must then be given, or the Oath is null and void.

A Sacred Oath supercedes the effects spells such as Charm Person; breaking the Oath is considered to be strongly against the creature's nature for purposes of charm effects.

7. Speak with Dead (adapted from Mentzer Expert Rules)

Range: 10'
Duration: 1 turn

This spell enables the cleric to ask three questions of a deceased spirit if the remains of its body are within range.  A cleric of 7th level or less may question a spirit dead up to four days, one of 8th to 10th level up to four months, one of 11th to 13th level up to four years, and at 14th level and above an unlimited amount of time.
The spirit will answer in a language understood by the cleric, but if their alignments differ the spirit may answer in riddles.  The spell lasts for 1 turn; if the three questions have not been asked within this time, any remaining questions are lost.  A spirit will only answer the questions of a particular cleric once per day at most.

8. Spiritual Bond

Range: Touch
Duration: 1 day

When this spell is cast, a bond is formed between the cleric and a living creature, linking them across distances.  The cleric is aware of the physical and emotional state of the subject, including injuries, diseases, poisons, etc. and may cast spells centered on the subject, no matter the distance separating them.  Thus the cleric could cast a Cure Wounds spell on a bonded fighter from across a battlefield or an even greater distance, without needing to touch him.  Harmful spells can be cast on the subject too, if the cleric so chooses, and the bond imposes a -2 penalty to any saving throw normally allowed.  Spiritual Bond requires the consent of the subject, and has no effect on an unwilling target.

Spells that didn't make the cut

Continual Light: Subsumed in the description of the 1st level Light spell, found here.

Growth of Animals: Really more the province of druids or elves than traditional clerics.

Striking: Replaced with the more versatile and flavorful Holy Flame.

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.)