Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Worlds without Magic Missiles

Recently, Sean Robson posted over at his blog about "the tyranny of magic missile," by which he meant the way in which the introduction of this now-iconic spell in Supplement I forever changed the way D&D was played and how D&D players conceived of the magic-user class. Since Sean uses Swords & Wizardry: White Box as his clone of choice -- it's by far my favorite version of S&W too -- he doesn't have to contend with the existence of this spell and is enjoying the salutary effect its had on his sessions.

Even though I have introduced magic missile into my Dwimmermount campaign, I actually share Sean's perspective on the matter and somewhat regret having moved beyond the spell lists in the LBBs to include those from Greyhawk. I think there's a lot to be said for keeping to the lists in Volume 1 of OD&D, both in terms of game play and esthetics. That said, I don't think all the spells introduced in Greyhawk are problematic or game-changing. Here are my thoughts on a handful of the spells I do think alter the dynamic of the game in ways I don't much care for:
  • Legend Lore: I prefer that forgotten knowledge only be obtainable through research, which is to say, scouring old libraries and visiting far-off locales. Spells like this obviate the need for lengthy journeys across the setting -- and thus adventures.
  • Monster Summoning: I am deeply ambivalent about this collection of spells. On the one hand, conjuration is a classic wizardly trick, but, on the other hand, there's something about the ability to summon -- and control -- monsters to do a magic-user's bidding without any strings attached that doesn't sit right with me.
  • Silence 15' Radius: Depending on how one interprets the spell, this is potentially game changing. I've allowed its use in my campaign, but wish I hadn't, or at least I wish I had interpreted it more narrowly than I did.
  • Speak with Dead: I am ambivalent about this spell too. Again, a lot depends on how its interpreted and, while I am generally happy with the way I've allowed it to be used in my campaign, I have issues with it esthetically, particularly in campaigns, like mine, where the nature of life after death, including its reality, are open questions.
Though I do use spells from Supplement I, I haven't yet acknowledged the existence of spell levels beyond those in the LBBs and I'm far from certain I ever shall. Truth be told, I actually think the existence of spell levels higher than 5th for clerics and 6th for magic-users do more to change the game than most of the new spells at levels 1-6. It's at those higher levels that the complexion of the game takes a turn toward unrelenting high fantasy, with implications for the nature of a setting that would (or should, at any rate) have a profound impact on it.

Now, I'm sure one could create a setting that followed through on those implications -- most D&D setting do not -- but my gut tells me that such a setting would be very different than the default pseudo-medieval/ancient world most referees and players assume when they hear the words "Dungeons & Dragons." And I'll admit that I'm skeptical that such settings would be very workable as places to adventure in the conventional ways, but I am notoriously small-minded. Regardless, I don't feel any compulsion to allow spells of levels 7-9 in my Dwimmermount campaign. The range of power presented in the LBBs is quite sufficient for my purposes and I've actually come to think the introduction of those higher spell levels led to a lot of later mischief that the game would have been better off without (such as the notion that magic-users were "overpowered" and that other classes needed to be beefed up in order to keep pace).

42 comments:

  1. I'm curious how you define "high fantasy" here. Personally, I associate the term with pseudo-medieval settings, particularly those with Arthurian elements. So, e.g., Guy Kay's Fionavar Tapestry is high fantasy, LotR probably qualifies, etc.

    On the other hand, something like Steven Brust's Dragaera books lack the scope of the previous examples, and Glen Cook's Black Company & Dread Empire books are far too grubby (IMHO) to qualify as high fantasy. You may note, though, that the Brust books include floating castles and routine use of teleport, raise dead and other major spells (with concomitant changes in society). Cook has wizards summoning demons hundreds of feet tall, using magical arbalest bolts with ranges on the order of hundreds of miles, destroying armies by melting the ground under them, and generally being far more effective than wizards in the high fantasy examples I mentioned.

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  2. You're right; I was too quick to use the term "high fantasy" when I should have instead written "high magic."

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  3. Huh. Having never played more than a very little OD&D, and never with spell-users, I was unaware of the changes in spell selection.

    Would you care to elaborate on the last paragraph of your post? I'm having a little difficulty wrapping my brain around the implied concept.

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  4. Would you care to elaborate on the last paragraph of your post? I'm having a little difficulty wrapping my brain around the implied concept.

    I'm tired, so it's probably not as clear as I meant it. My point was that the introduction of more and higher level spells into the game implies a much more magic rich -- and potent -- world than do the fewer and weaker spells of just the LBBs. I won't go so far as to claim that the LBBs are genuinely swords-and-sorcery in their presentation by any means, but they're certainly a lot less "high magic" than are all later version of D&D.

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  5. Years back playing AD&D I twiddled with the magic system and dropped magic missile and sleep from the commonly available 1st level spells. It worked fine. The players actually used some imagination and creativity in their spell selections. Grease became really popular but they did use other 1st level spells I hadn't seen used in years.

    Spells that are available in a campaign do alter the tone and feel of the game and should be an area more DMs spend time on as opposed to drafting up royal lines back 18 generations and obscure political systems the players will never really be exposed to in a meaningful fashion.

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  6. I handled this in my AD&D campaigns by assuming there were no living NPC spellcasters above level ten or so; only liches ever reached that level of power. Since PC spellcasters never reached that level either in normal play, the higher level spells were not really a problem either in game terms or with respect to setting logic. No one could cast them except liches, and they didn't care enough about the affairs of the living to have any real impact on the structure of society.

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  7. Ironically, James, I really like your interpretation of magic missile as an existing arrow, dagger, etc., that has been enchanted. This has a great sword & sorcery aesthetic and I'm really tempted to adopt it.

    I'm also wary of spells in the 7th - 9th level range. To paraphrase Bill Gates: 6th level spells are all the magic anyone will ever need. I think the higher tier spell levels may present the same dangers that magic missile does - they make players lazy, allowing them to rely on spells like wish or time stop instead of using lesser spells more creatively.

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  8. Of the spells you've got here I think Legend Lore and Speak With Dead are the two I'd be most likely to ditch - Speak With Dead especially. Magic Missile I think is a double-edged sword - tactically-minded players usually work out that Sleep is a superior investment when it comes to offensive magic anyway at first level, so it's kind of a trap; it's got an eye-catching name and the effects sound flashy, but picking it as your soul spell is (in my games at least) a rookie mistake. But Legend Lore and Speak With Dead have a horrendously corrosive effect on investigative games. (If nothing else, Speak With Dead throws in an extra headache when the party gets involved in a murder investigation.)

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  9. Jack vance's, "excellent prismatic spray" is actually more akin to magic missile than d&d's prismatic spray. "firery darts filled then glen and pierced fill the body full of foes.".

    Does turjan, mazirian, and every other magician over use prismatic missile? Yes, but that's hardly a reason to say it perverts our perception of magicians...unless you're some ars magica pansy who's platonic ideal of a "wizard" should be David Blaine.

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  10. I've always wondered why MM became such the iconic first level spell. Why? Because, quite frankly, it sucked. It's nowhere near as effective as other first level spells at low levels, and nowhere near as potent as higher level spells later on.

    Now, I'm largely basing my opinion on the spell lists as they existed in 1985 and prior. 2e and later may have changed this, and my understanding is that spells like Sleep and Charm Person became quite a bit less effective in later versions of the game.

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  11. Who needs magic missile when you have sleep which has been in the game since book 1?

    I cast magic-missile and possibly kill this single goblin.

    I cast sleep and take out at least half of these 16 goblins.

    I don't know how magic missile became such an iconic spell. Even at higher levels I preferred burning hands as my 1st level fall back.

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  12. You're right; I was too quick to use the term "high fantasy" when I should have instead written "high magic."

    Fair enough; "high fantasy" is used often enough to be an easy fill-in.

    To paraphrase Bill Gates: 6th level spells are all the magic anyone will ever need.

    The thing is, though, that just as in the computing world it's the end user who gets to define how they use something. And in the case of the various flavors of D&D, it's abundantly clear that lots of people wanted to play (and run) really tough magic-users and clerics [1].

    OTOH, the beauty of the OSR is that we can mess around with the rules if we want to; as long as the DM and the players are on the same page as far as expectations, it's all good.

    [1] I remember a Runequest enthusiast using the low power of magic in RQ as a selling point, compared to D&D wish and time stop. This was quite a while ago, before RQ characters started getting into things like the I Fought We Won battle in God Time....

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  13. Not only is Magic Missile kind of a cheat, but so is allowing direct damage spells for clerics. I've even gotten worried recently about anti-clerics reversing Cure Light Wound spells. Maybe the reverse should be Incurable Light Wound, which requires treatment by Cure Light Wound before any damage can be restored, magically or otherwise...

    One of the things I noticed when I looked for patterns in the magic-user and cleric is that you really don't see every possible effect at every spell level. Unlike GURPS or AD&D, you don't see weak versions of the conjuration and missile spells at 1st level, which lead to improved versions at later levels. There's a logic to the spell lists that gets broken later on.

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  16. In B/X the range of a magic missile is less than that of a sleep spell. So in this form MM is really a low level spell designed for use by high level wizards (although in a good campaign even high level wizards would be wise to keep sleep handy).

    In Ad&d however, MM starts with 2x the range of sleep spell and keeps getting better. Picking off a goblin scout from 60' away where the parties fighter might need an 18+ to hit could be quite useful.

    Looking again at Vance's magicians and Gygax's use of them as "heroes/protagonists/antagonists" it is clear with wizards on solo adventurers, that the spells that would benefit Mordekainian doing a dungeon delve, or Mazirian the Magician chasing T'sais though a forrest (strength spell, water breathing, magic missile) are different from those spells that would be most beneficial to the "chainmail" wargame magic-user--the same role as performed by a wizard in a party of adventurers: Sleep, fireball, etc.

    fun discussion.

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  17. I think it's easy enough to make the dead insane and/or liars and to make the result of legend lore some kind of crazy riddle. I never once had a player use monster summoning or silence (not even on other spellcasters) but maybe my players were just weird.

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  18. I should also add, in reference to what I said earlier about my AD&D campaigns not having living NPC spellcasters above level ten, that this meant most magic items not made by the gods had been manufactured by liches. This handily explained why so many of them were cursed.

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  19. Magic Missile can be crazy effective, depending on the circumstance. But more importantly it is dull as dishwater both in effect and in narration. So, I banned it in my campaign.

    Most of the other spells you list as problematic, I have rarely seen used. Though I like what can be done with speak with the dead as far as storytelling goes.

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  20. In AD&D spells in the 3-5 level range for clerics were meted out by the deity's messenger. 6 and 7 level spells were granted directly form the deity. A rule like this might provide balance as to what got cast during a game. Players after all wouldn't be picking them, they'd be asking for them....

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  21. Sleep was definitely our go to spell for offensive first level magic users. Although I don't know how anyone can go past Charm Person in an LBB campaign. I think I only ever knew one person that took Magic Missile as a first level spell.

    A nice focus on magic users is that they don't automatically get knowledge of spells. They need to find a teacher or a scroll (even other mage's spell books are useless for transcription purposes, unless they had the same teacher). The possibility of gaining a new spell should be highly valued. And magical research should be ... interesting (especially when researching combat spells). [I always liked the scout in The Misenchanted Sword by Lawrence Watt Evans who discovering a mage hiding in the swamps decries him as a coward until he discovers he is engaged in spell research...]

    Also a big problem with high level magic users is that must people still treat them as adventurers, or as resources for adventurers. My expectation is that high level characters (of any stripe) are too busy with competing at their own level to be engaged in what they must be consider to be gratuitous displays of power. They have their own epic responsibilities. Stuff that cannot be solved with the simple application of magic (otherwise it wouldn't be a problem, would it).

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  22. Basically agree with this post. Top item is not expanding spells beyond 6th level. Your list of problem spells is well-taken, I avoid any of those in my games, too. (Well, I put Legend Lore in Book of Spells in order to make the 6th level have a rollable 1-12 spells, but I scowled a bit as I did it.)

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  23. As for spells above 6th level, I went from accepting them in my AD&D days, to rejecting them completely, to finally deciding that some spells of level 7+ exist, but can only be learned, not memorized. Which means they can only be cast from a scroll, with an appropriate chance of a spell fumble.

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  24. @ James: thanks for the elaboration. Actually, though I was referring to the first part of the paragraph:

    "Now, I'm sure one could create a setting that followed through on those implications -- most D&D setting do not -- but my gut tells me that such a setting would be very different than the default pseudo-medieval/ancient world most referees and players assume when they hear the words "Dungeons & Dragons." "

    I'm curious if there's something in particular you envision this looking like...and would it be more or less magical than AD&D or D20 which I consider extremely far removed from "Sword & Sorcery;" and yet when you say

    "...I'm skeptical that such settings would be very workable as places to adventure in the CONVENTIONAL WAYS..."

    I can only say that I consider AD&D and D20 to be as "conventional" as D&D comes.

    In other words, I'm intrigued by the idea of a campaign world that makes full use of the high magic potential rendering adventures in it "unconventional" compared to standard D&D fare...the standard fare being far removed from standard S&S fare.

    You grok what I'm saying? Maybe we just need to blow the top off this mother!
    ; )

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  25. I actually think spells like Summon Monster and Speak With dead should be the only kind of spells a magic-user should have, at least in concept. They should just be reskined and interpreted a little differently.

    Say you simply change Summon Monster to summon a demon. Most players are wary of demons and you could give everything an additional layer of threat to it with clever roleplay. For example you describe the demon doing the wizard's will, bound by the magical enchantments, but you also note how he glances at the summoner every now and then and grins or how he accepts orders with a quiet and amused resentment. I imagine players would be scared of such a spell and wary of its use. Perhaps even give it a chance that the demon will break his chains or return from the netherworld later, of his own volition to claim payment from the wizard.

    Speak with dead would be much the same if described in a particularly gruesome or creepy manner. I mean, it's speaking with the dead. Rather than an instant "answer machine", reskin it as a spell that gives the dead "the power to speak". The dead might be in eternal pain and just scream, maybe they hold a grudge and will lie and curse, maybe they know terrible, terrible secrets, maybe they have ulterior motives.

    Keep players on their toes.

    @JB: I think a setting that was more or less built on assumptions of high magic was Eberron, at least to a degree. You've got stuff like magic trains powered by bound elementals etc.

    I mean, in a world with 8th and 9th level spells, I really don't see why people aren't living on the moon, flying around in magic skyships, using simple magic to help around the house (magic brooms, magic illumination, sewing automatons...) and host monthly public ressurections at the temple. It would be an interesting world to play in.

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  26. Reverance Pavane quoth:
    Also a big problem with high level magic users is that must people still treat them as adventurers, or as resources for adventurers. My expectation is that high level characters (of any stripe) are too busy with competing at their own level to be engaged in what they must be consider to be gratuitous displays of power. They have their own epic responsibilities. Stuff that cannot be solved with the simple application of magic (otherwise it wouldn't be a problem, would it).

    The issue there is that, AFAICT, the high-level game--the "epic responsibilities" you mention--is not well-described in the OD&D rules set or its clones (to put it mildly). This leads to the entirely reasonable conclusion on the part of the players that high-level characters do not qualitatively differ from low-level characters, and thus that their concerns and motivations will be close to those of typical adventurers. (It also creates the perception that setting up a stronghold is sugarcoating permanent character retirement from play--in short, a condition indistinguishable in practice from character death.)

    As a DM you could, if you wanted, gloss the lack of a defined high-level game by effectively barring player-characters from it. The results may not be what you intended.

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  27. The issue there is that, AFAICT, the high-level game--the "epic responsibilities" you mention--is not well-described in the OD&D rules set or its clones (to put it mildly).

    My opinion? It's right there in the subtitle: "Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns". I think the intention at high levels was to raise armies from your Barony and march them out either against your neighbors or into the wilderness to expand your territory. I expect the reason the rules weren't detailed in the LBBs is that you were assumed to have CHAINMAIL.

    Then, of course, the game got hugely popular among people without that wargame background (including me), who just sort of assumed they should keep playing the game at high levels much as they had before.

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  28. +1 to Witness. The abandonment of chainmail was unfortunate. It led to power inflation (no longer are blacksmiths and soldiers 0-level, but now 8th level blacksmiths and bands of 4th level thieves...imagine that! A band of heroic thieves who's only purpose is to provide a challenge for high level players). It's the problem with MMO's and the problem with 4E where you need 20th level goblins or 14th level giraffes because players are expected to "grind" at high level just as they were at low level.

    High level players, "should" be fighting goblins, but not 10th level goblins, rather hundreds and hundreds of "normal" goblins. How can high level players feel powerful if goblins, orcs, and even mundane animals keep scaling with them?

    I'm going off topic.

    Let's look at the sleep spell. 2d6 "normal" enemies or 1 "heroic" foe. This is an exact mirror of the mass combat and man-to-man tables. Heroes can attack/kill multiple normal foes per round on the (normal) man-to-man table, but gain only 1 attack on the fantasy man-to-man table (called the fantasy combat chart).

    Other spells from chainmail are also misconstrued as being mass combat when they are actually man-to-man. Take "slow[ness]]. Which effects 20 figures which is only 1 unit of men on a 1:20 scale. Sleep also, really only effects 1 unit of creatures, or 1 heroic creature.

    The reason magic missile really isn't all that great at low levels, is that it has no inherent ratio built in on the normal/fantastic level. Magic Missile (had it been created when chainmail was still in the mind of gygax) would have been 2d6 magic darts of 1d6 damage (each dart only hitting one foe using the magic users Thac0/or allowing a saving throw) or a single dart of 4d6 damage (again, allowing a save, or a to hit roll).

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  29. +1 to Witness. The abandonment of chainmail was unfortunate. It led to power inflation (no longer are blacksmiths and soldiers 0-level, but now 8th level blacksmiths and bands of 4th level thieves...imagine that! A band of heroic thieves who's only purpose is to provide a challenge for high level players). It's the problem with MMO's and the problem with 4E where you need 20th level goblins or 14th level giraffes because players are expected to "grind" at high level just as they were at low level.

    High level players, "should" be fighting goblins, but not 10th level goblins, rather hundreds and hundreds of "normal" goblins. How can high level players feel powerful if goblins, orcs, and even mundane animals keep scaling with them?

    I'm going off topic.

    Let's look at the sleep spell. 2d6 "normal" enemies or 1 "heroic" foe. This is an exact mirror of the mass combat and man-to-man tables. Heroes can attack/kill multiple normal foes per round on the (normal) man-to-man table, but gain only 1 attack on the fantasy man-to-man table (called the fantasy combat chart).

    Other spells from chainmail are also misconstrued as being mass combat when they are actually man-to-man. Take "slow[ness]]. Which effects 20 figures which is only 1 unit of men on a 1:20 scale. Sleep also, really only effects 1 unit of creatures, or 1 heroic creature.

    The reason magic missile really isn't all that great at low levels, is that it has no inherent ratio built in on the normal/fantastic level. Magic Missile (had it been created when chainmail was still in the mind of gygax) would have been 2d6 magic darts of 1d6 damage (each dart only hitting one foe using the magic users Thac0/or allowing a saving throw) or a single dart of 4d6 damage (again, allowing a save, or a to hit roll).

    "But wait!", you say. "This is overpowered for a 1st level magic-user!" Yes it is! But none of these spells were designed for 1st level wizards. The lowest level magic-user in chainmail is a seer which is the equal to a hero (4th level) and the magic missile spell we all know and love was designed for a 1st level mu which is why it is so weak at low levels.

    With a seer in chainmail who had only 1 spell memorized, it begins to make sense what a spell like sleep was about as it was in the hands of a hero, not an unheroic 1st level apprentice.

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  31. Sorry, some editing problems...

    A 4th level hero can attack four men per round on the MtM table a once on the fantasy MtM table.

    A seer can attack 2x per round on the MtM table (and has an equally less number of, "hit points" than the hero), but still more than a normal man. He has 1 spell, one "nuke" if you will. He can--with his one memorized spell, he can put down exactly 1 unit of troops in mass combat ( 20 men in MtM) or 1 fantastic/heroic foe.

    The hero and the wizard in chainmail were balanced, it is only the flaws in the early iterations of d&d that created what we consider to be "intended design" of power disparities at different levels.

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  32. None of the listed spells have ever bothered me in the slightest, though I can see eliminating them if someone wanted to make a low-magic setting.

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  33. Witness was alleged to have said:
    I think the intention at high levels was to raise armies from your Barony and march them out either against your neighbors or into the wilderness to expand your territory. I expect the reason the rules weren't detailed in the LBBs is that you were assumed to have CHAINMAIL.

    It's been over thirty years since I read CHAINMAIL, but ISTR it was focused on squad-level battles; it didn't really get into what I would regard as the key elements of the high-level game. I don't remember any discussion of logistics (although some of that sort of thing showed up in the 1st Ed DMG, of all places), nor anything about advancement.

    Now, you may reasonably object to a discussion of character advancement when what we're really talking about is the character accruing greater temporal power through the growth of a kingdom. However, I'd argue that a Wizard who's retired from adventuring and set up a stronghold is instead attempting to accrue temporal power by arcane means. (The infamous "Slay Ruler and Transfer Loyalty of Populace to Caster" spell comes to mind.) And in the D&D game, that's represented by an increase in character level.

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  34. UWS guy said something like:
    The hero and the wizard in chainmail were balanced, it is only the flaws in the early iterations of d&d that created what we consider to be "intended design" of power disparities at different levels.

    I'd never thought of it that way, but you're right. The intentionality of the differences in power curve between different classes was retconned in pretty early, though.

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  35. It's been over thirty years since I read CHAINMAIL, but ISTR it was focused on squad-level battles; it didn't really get into what I would regard as the key elements of the high-level game. I don't remember any discussion of logistics (although some of that sort of thing showed up in the 1st Ed DMG, of all places), nor anything about advancement.

    There's a lot of information in the LBBs about gathering forces, how much they cost, how fast they can move, how big of a radius around your castle is assumed to stay clear of monsters simply because your castle hasn't been abandoned/destroyed, etc., if that's the kind of thing you're after.

    What's not present in the LBBs was a decent mechanism for handling combat on that scale.

    Now, you may reasonably object to a discussion of character advancement when what we're really talking about is the character accruing greater temporal power through the growth of a kingdom. However, I'd argue that a Wizard who's retired from adventuring and set up a stronghold is instead attempting to accrue temporal power by arcane means. (The infamous "Slay Ruler and Transfer Loyalty of Populace to Caster" spell comes to mind.) And in the D&D game, that's represented by an increase in character level.

    I'm not sure if this is an objection to what I said. Nothing stops OD&D characters from continuing to advance in level pretty much forever. They do stop gaining as much power per level, however, and the means by which they gain their power is likely to shift.

    It's never stated outright in the LBBs that players gain XP for taxes collected in their Baronies, but allowing it would almost inherently lead to a very different "endgame".

    The intentionality of the differences in power curve between different classes was retconned in pretty early, though.

    Absolutely. The game was shifting towards its modern state even from the first supplement - probably even earlier.

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  36. I'm not sure if this is an objection to what I said. Nothing stops OD&D characters from continuing to advance in level pretty much forever. They do stop gaining as much power per level, however, and the means by which they gain their power is likely to shift.

    It's never stated outright in the LBBs that players gain XP for taxes collected in their Baronies, but allowing it would almost inherently lead to a very different "endgame".


    My error--that was intended as an impersonal "you," but in the context of a personal response, I should've been clearer. Getting XP for Baronial achievements would've definitely made for an interesting endgame, albeit one that smacked a bit of Amway-style multilevel marketing.

    I agree now that the strategic endgame was at least implicit in the LBB/CHAINMAIL combination, but I think I know at least part of why it didn't become more prevalent: In my experience, at least, no one learned to play D&D from the rules alone. With I think one exception, everyone I ever gamed with Back In The Day had at least seen the game played before they tried to DM a game. So something like the late game, that only appears in an established campaign after quite some time, isn't going to be what new people imprint on, and it was lost in transmission.

    From the POV of a DM, then, I think the thing to do is look at what tropes you want, then come up with the in-game justification for them. If you want to encourage character retirement from active adventuring, set it up so that a Lord advances more quickly in capabilities by leading a Barony than by going out adventuring. Set it up so that Wizards have to spend long periods of uninterrupted time to get any results at all in magical research or item creation, if that's the trope you want; IIRC, Chivalry & Sorcery tried to do something like this.

    A caveat, though, is that a campaign like this is in a lot of ways even harder to run than one oriented around standard adventuring, and apart from the things you discussed in the LBB & Chainmail there's no good roadmap out there.

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  37. I'm curious if there's something in particular you envision this looking like...and would it be more or less magical than AD&D or D20 which I consider extremely far removed from "Sword & Sorcery;"

    My feeling is that, as written, most versions of D&D imply a highly magical world, one where things like food shortages, unclear water, and disease should be, if not unknown, at least a lot more uncommon. I can't recall any D&D settings that took this as given and ran with it, presenting a world where the game's magic-as-technology undercurrent was given full vent.

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  38. The abandonment of chainmail was unfortunate. It led to power inflation (no longer are blacksmiths and soldiers 0-level, but now 8th level blacksmiths and bands of 4th level thieves...imagine that! A band of heroic thieves who's only purpose is to provide a challenge for high level players). It's the problem with MMO's and the problem with 4E where you need 20th level goblins or 14th level giraffes because players are expected to "grind" at high level just as they were at low level.

    This is an intriguing line of thought. I'd like to hear more, actually.

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  39. "My feeling is that, as written, most versions of D&D imply a highly magical world, one where things like food shortages, unclear water, and disease should be, if not unknown, at least a lot more uncommon."

    I've never had any players complain about this problem, but if they did I would have three possible answers in my own campaigns:

    1) There just aren't that many high level spell casters. Most clergy aren't "clerical" class but rather 0 level normal humans, and high level clerics are few and far between. Magic users who reach name level tend to go insane or blow themselves up while experimenting with potions, so there aren't very many of them either.

    2) Clerical spells are granted directly by the gods for the purposes of the gods. The gods want HEROES (i.e., PC's) healed, cured, and raised from the dead. They won't cure random peasants of disease and they won't raise useless nobles from the dead just because their relatives have money. So most NPC's are no better off than the inhabitants of the actual medieval world.

    3) For every magical source of healing or creation, there is a magical source of harm or destruction. So it all balances out to be more or less like the historical Middle Ages in terms of disease, food shortages, etc.

    Other people might have different answers, but those are some of the ways I would justify a world that has a lot of magic, but isn't really that different from the actual medieval period.

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  40. 1) There just aren't that many high level spell casters. Most clergy aren't "clerical" class but rather 0 level normal humans, and high level clerics are few and far between. Magic users who reach name level tend to go insane or blow themselves up while experimenting with potions, so there aren't very many of them either.

    So all 11th level clerics, e.g., are High Priests, but not all High Priests are 11th level clerics? And with regard to MUs, the argument is that non-adventuring XP gain has dangers comparable to adventuring? That seems like a workable approach, albeit one that carries a bit of the "PCs are special" trope.

    Other people might have different answers, but those are some of the ways I would justify a world that has a lot of magic, but isn't really that different from the actual medieval period.

    That reminds me of another issue with the default game setting being similar to medieval Western Europe: Cultural stability. In RL, the medieval period lasted roughly a millenium, give or take. But it was by no means a period of technological, cultural, or political stasis. There are a lot of campaigns that posit medieval Western European-like societies that have persisted, essentially unchanged, for thousands of years. This tends to break my WSOD unless there's some very good handwaving involved.

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  41. "That seems like a workable approach, albeit one that carries a bit of the "PCs are special" trope."

    I have no problem with the idea that PC's (or at least PC and NPC "adventurers") are special. My view is that adventurers are chosen by the gods to do battle with the forces of darkness - albeit often unwittingly and motivated by the prospect of gain rather than by any more "noble" motive. Intentionally or not, adventurers roll back the tide of evil, or at least hold it at bay for a little while. So I think the gods can show them a few unusual signs of favor (e.g., allowing them to be raised from the dead when most people can't be).

    "There are a lot of campaigns that posit medieval Western European-like societies that have persisted, essentially unchanged, for thousands of years. This tends to break my WSOD unless there's some very good handwaving involved."

    My personal approach is to give the players roughly the same amount of knowledge of the past as real medieval people had. So they know what happened in the gaming world for the last couple generations fairly well, have a sketchy idea about the previous couple centuries, and know nothing but vague legends about earlier periods. Their characters probably believe the past was just like the present (as real medieval people apparently did - check out the many depictions in medieval art of Romans and Greeks and Biblical figures wearing anachronistic medieval clothes and equipment) and they're probably wrong about that. But no one in the campaign world really knows for sure.

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  42. ...(as real medieval people apparently did - check out the many depictions in medieval art of Romans and Greeks and Biblical figures wearing anachronistic medieval clothes and equipment)....

    For an interesting update on that, check out Avram Davidson's _The Phoenix and the Mirror_--it's set in a pre-Christian Rome/Mediterranean basin as imagined by medieval scholars.

    But no one in the campaign world really knows for sure.

    Except for the elves, who live far longer than a couple of human generations. So that approach would seem to imply that they don't bother to pay attention to human fashions, and that their interactions with human society are quite limited. There's a lot of good RP potential hidden in things like this....

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