Monday, July 26, 2010

Blue Book, Cover to Cover (Part XV)

I should have mentioned this the other day, but Holmes includes no rules for intelligent swords in the Blue Book. Moldvay follows his lead on this, relegating such rules to the Cook/Marsh Expert Rulebook.

Holmes's ring of invisibility follows OD&D. However, he changes the LBBs' ring of mammal control to a ring of animal control. The ring controls the same number of animals as in OD&D but the scope of its power has been broadened. His ring of plant control is seemingly unique, having no counterpart in OD&D that I can find. The ring of weakness in the Blue Book is slightly different, being clearer in its mechanical function and possessing a 5% chance that it works in reverse. The ring of protection and ring of three wishes both function as in OD&D, right down to the injunction to the referee to use the latter as a means to punish greedy players who attempt abuse its magic. Likewise, the ring of regeneration, ring of water walking, and ring of fire resistance follow OD&D, though Holmes actually provides descriptions for the latter two rather than simply referring the reader to spell descriptions. The ring of contrariness follows Greyhawk.

Holmes follows OD&D when it comes to the general powers of wands (6d6 damage and 100 charges). He doesn't make reference to how many charges staves have, however, which is odd, particularly since Supplement I clarifies that even the staff of striking uses charges to function. He provides a duration for the fear engendered by a wand of fear, while his wand of magic detection and wand of secret door and trap detection follow OD&D except to convert inches to feet for range purposes. His other wands also follow OD&D, although the wand of fireballs gets a lengthier description that repeats some of the details of the fireball spell on which it's based, presumably because Holmes doesn't include such a description earlier in the book. Holmes's staves all conform to their OD&D antecedents. The rod of cancellation, meanwhile, is generally the same as in Supplement I, but Holmes adds that "the character employing the rod adds 2 to his die roll to score hits," a sentence not found in Greyhawk.

The crystal ball, medallion of ESP, and bag of holding follow OD&D. The elven cloak still only makes the wearer "next to invisible," but there are explicit rules for how the wearer can be seen. Elven boots are unchanged. The broom of flying is more specific about its speed with two riders but is otherwise unchanged. The helm of telepathy is roughly identical to OD&D, but the game mechanics are different, with the LBBs using the random monster action rules and Holmes employing a straight saving throw. The bag of devouring follows Greyhawk. The helm of chaos (law) is now called helm of evil/good and functions according to the fivefold alignment system. The helm also turns a Neutral character into someone "totally self-seeking" as opposed to OD&D's notion that the helm makes them become either Lawful or Chaotic, which suggests yet another shift in the meaning of alignment from the LBBs to Holmes. The rope of climbing from Supplement I is here and gets a lengthier and more detailed description of its powers. Gauntlets of ogre power more or less follow OD&D, though the range of damage dealt is slightly different (2-8 rather than 3-8) and Holmes riffs off the exceptional strength table (though does not follow it) by granting the wearer of the gauntlets the ability to carry more weight.

Holmes concludes his discussion of magic items by noting that the referee should penalize any character who "has a hireling or non-player character flunkie try out a newly found piece of equipment" out of fear for its possibly harmful effects. He suggests that such NPC guinea pigs "demand to keep [a magic item] if it proves to be beneficial" and will seek revenge if the opposite is the case.

10 comments:

  1. "...the referee should penalize any character who 'has a hireling or non-player character flunkie try out a newly found piece of equipment' out of fear for its possibly harmful effects. He suggests that such NPC guinea pigs 'demand to keep [a magic item] if it proves to be beneficial' and will seek revenge if the opposite is the case."

    Note that this is pretty similar to the strictures given in Sup-III Eldritch Wizardry -- there in regards to the new variable-effect artifacts, here used for magic items in general.

    "By the same token, no longer will players be able to send some unfortunate hireling to an early demise by forcing him to experiment on his master’s goodies." [Sup-III, Foreword]

    "The abilities of all artifacts and relies must be determined by trial and error, by the players... It is both unlawful and evil to give a relic to a "on-player character because there may be danger involved. Non-player characters who are given artifacts to try out will, upon learning haw to use them, attempt to dominate or destroy their masters/emplayers." [Sup-III, p. 40]

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  2. I've always been confused by the D&D approach to wishes, which seems to follow some weird self-punishing ascetic principle. Why put in a magic item of almost infinite benefit and then punish people who use it as designed? I think it's an early example of setting up the GM as capricious god rather than facilitator of fun. I can understand if the wishes were granted by a particular deity or spirit, such as in the X-Files episode with the carpet, and any wishes that conflicted with the alignment/sensibilities of the spirit were dealt out vindictively. But that's not how the ring is described as far as I can tell.

    And what does it say about this game's approach to low-level play that they include these magic items anyway? Did 3rd level characters in early OD&D get rings of wishes?

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  3. Why put in a magic item of almost infinite benefit and then punish people who use it as designed?

    Punishing greedy players is how it was designed to be used, though. From the first time the item is described in Volume 2 of OD&D, it's clear that the ring of three wishes is as much a trick/trap as a magic item; it's a test of the player's ability to get as much benefit from it without crossing a line that'll bring the referee's wrath down upon them.

    I think it's an early example of setting up the GM as capricious god rather than facilitator of fun.

    Wishes by their nature are capricious. This is "The Monkey's Paw" we're talking about here, not Aladdin's lamp.

    And what does it say about this game's approach to low-level play that they include these magic items anyway? Did 3rd level characters in early OD&D get rings of wishes?

    Rings of any type were rare in OD&D -- only a 5% chance of rolling on randomly on the treasure table and a ring of three wishes was a 10% chance on the sub-table specifically for rings.

    That said, low-level characters did acquire them. I know they came up in my old campaigns, as did things like the luck blade. These items were, as I noted, tricks/traps as much as magic items, just like many others in the game. They were intended to be a puzzle, something whose use required thought beforehand and whose hasty use could prove disastrous. What their presence in the game says is that, even in low-level play, players have to be smart and look before they leap. If they weren't they'd soon learn the folly of their ways.

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  4. Indeed James, and I think this is an example of how the early game environment construed the game as a conflict between the players and the GM. The presence of a wish spell in an adventure really creates a lot of tension between player and GM, and an unhealthy atmosphere of trying to get one over each other. That's a different atmosphere, in my opinion, to one in which you try to kill the monsters the GM provides.

    Also, this isn't just about the ring. The wish spell has this same property, and I don't think you can argue that spells designed for pcs were put in their to trick them. Were the wish spell a spell that summoned a beast of a random alignment, which you were then required to work within, that would be one thing, but that's not how it's presented. It's a specific example of the players having to outthink the GM in order to use one of their own spells, and I don't see that there is any logic behind this idea that has a nice explanation.

    This is completely different to, for example, demon summoning, which has a strong literary basis for its caprice, and is explicitly an evil act. The wish spell is not presented this way.

    My point about the inclusion of these items is simply that they seem to suggest a monty hall atmosphere - as do +3 warhammers, potions of dragon control, life-draining swords, etc. These ain't the sort of items that should be in a book for level 3 characters.

    Do you think this represents a vision of how level 3 adventures worked, or simply design incoherence?

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  5. Also, this isn't just about the ring. The wish spell has this same property, and I don't think you can argue that spells designed for pcs were put in their to trick them.

    Why not? Many high-level spells in D&D come with the possibility of dangers against which the player has to weigh his decision to use the spell in the first place. Do I risk insanity by casting contact other plane in order to get vital information? Do I dare use reincarnation on a comrade and risk his returning as a badger? As I read it, wish is quite consonant with the way D&D is written.

    Do you think this represents a vision of how level 3 adventures worked, or simply design incoherence?

    I'm not sure I understand your question. If you're asking, "Should level 3 characters have access to rings of wishes?," then I'd say, "Maybe." Or rather, I'd say that I don't think there's anything inherently "incoherent" about a low-level character getting a very powerful magic item, especially in a game where ability scores confer few if any benefits, hit points and armor classes are low, and there's not a plethora of class abilities to boost individual character power.

    But if you're asking something else, I have no idea how to respond.

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  6. There is lots of lore about corrupting wishes, I can't remember anything specific, but I did find this wiki reference:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_wishes_joke

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  7. James, the other spells you mention fit into a specific accepted paradigm, i.e. Contact Other Planes explicitly involves bargaining with another, evil creature for information, and Reincarnation involves invoking an effect with a specific religious and cultural background of risk - and it's lower level than the best resurrection spells by dint of its risk. The spell was essentially useless anyway, no-one ever used it.

    Frank, your wiki link starts with the phrase "given 3 wishes by a supernatural being." This is not, to the best of my knowledge, how the Wish spell is construed and I certainly don't recall the spell enabling you to randomly choose what alignment that being was so you could better guess its intentions with respect to the outcome of the wish.

    As far as I can tell, the Wish spell doesn't set up a situation where the GM has to decide what a supernatural being would do; it sets up the GM as the supernatural being and is one of the many ways in which AD&D envisaged the GM as a capricious god rather than a facilitator of a game.

    James, you understood my second question right, although your answer is about what you think "should" be done at low levels. I was wondering if you have any insight into whether this is what the Blue Book is founded on, or whether it is just a general incoherence in their conception of how to present a "basic" game.

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  8. As far as I can tell, the Wish spell doesn't set up a situation where the GM has to decide what a supernatural being would do; it sets up the GM as the supernatural being and is one of the many ways in which AD&D envisaged the GM as a capricious god rather than a facilitator of a game.

    I guess I don't see anything necessarily capricious about the role played by the referee in adjudicating a wish. Every version of the spell/magic item enjoins the referee to use good judgment in deciding whether to allow a wish. Sometimes that means simply granting it without qualification; other times, that means twisting it. Determining when to do one and when to do the other is a skill all good referees are expected to acquire.

    I was wondering if you have any insight into whether this is what the Blue Book is founded on, or whether it is just a general incoherence in their conception of how to present a "basic" game.

    So far as I know, Holmes's purpose was to present the material in OD&D more clearly than in the LBBs and to include only a limited selection of material so as not to overwhelm a beginning player. Given that the text regularly states that characters will often encounter things more powerful than they, I don't think Holmes believed there was anything inappropriate about the inclusion of a ring of three wishes. After all, he excluded plenty of other items from OD&D in his rulebook, so it stands to reason he saw no problem with what he did include.

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  9. I'm not sure how it's possible to see the GM's role in this case as not capricious, given that the rule books include an injunction to the referee to use [the ring] as a means to punish greedy players who attempt abuse its magic.

    There's a capricious moralism in suggesting this form of punishment in a game that is all about killing things and stealing their stuff, and it's out of whack with the purpose of the thing. This is treasure, but it can be "abused."

    You say that the GM needs to use "judgment" in granting a wish, but why? What is he judging, exactly? If he was worried about the effect of wishes he should have not given out the ring, and if he wants to make it hazardous he should give a reason why. At least, that is what we would expect of any other similar situation where the GM was expected to show sound judgment. What's the exception in this case?

    I think it's either a) a very poor implementation of the aladdin's lamp story, in which they have stripped out the justification for the caprice (the genie); or b) it's a brief glimpse of the moralism of the creators of D&D, that there can be "no such thing as a free lunch." Which, given we're talking about magic - the source of perpetual motion machines and energy without effort - is a bit silly.

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  10. b) it's a brief glimpse of the moralism of the creators of D&D, that there can be "no such thing as a free lunch." Which, given we're talking about magic - the source of perpetual motion machines and energy without effort - is a bit silly.

    As I've noted on many occasions, old school D&D most certainly does possess a streak of moralism in it, which manifests in a number of places in its rules and explanatory text. Now, that's never bothered me. Indeed, I see it as part of the unique authorial voice that gives the game its charm and staying power. I can appreciate it's not to everyone's taste but I'm not sure I'd call its presence "silly."

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