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.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

NPC Sunday: Shostin Oakbarrel, smith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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