Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Articles of Dragon: "Hold That Person!"

Issue #90 (October 1984) of Dragon contained a short installment of Gary Gygax's increasingly irregular "From the Sorceror's [sic] Scroll" column entitled "Hold That Person!" The article's subtitle explains its purpose. According to Gygax, "the vast array of new monsters" found in books like the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II have left players and DMs alike wondering which humanoids are affected by the spells charm person and hold person. Was that the case?

I ask because I distinctly recall that my feeling upon reading the article nearly 30 years ago was one of bemusement. I mean, I was, back then, very much enthralled by nearly everything Gary wrote. He was, after all, the creator of AD&D and his word on the subject was Law. But a list -- a definitive list, no less -- of what creatures qualified as "persons" for the purposes of certain spells? Why was this necessary? Did anyone really wonder whether a swanmay could be charmed or an ogrillon held? Was this even an issue at all? Maybe it was needed in tournaments, I don't know, but it was never an issue that came up in my gaming groups.

Just as interesting as the list Gygax provides are his closing comments in this article. He says the following:
If you, as a player, are grateful to have this expanded list, your gratitude is certainly appreciated but keep in mind that it is a mixed blessing. Players must attempt to remember the list of creatures affected by charm person and hold person, for when it comes time to cast a spell, the DM must never allow them to consult their reference works except for the Players Handbook. On the other hand, the DM can use any reference source at his disposal (including articles like this one) to check for desired information.
Now, there's nothing beyond the pale in what Gygax says here. In my experience, it was pretty much standard operating procedure amongst the groups with which I had contact. However, this is the first time I can recall its ever being stated outright as the Gospel of Gary. Again, I don't disagree with it, as it's identical to my own practice, but it is nonetheless interesting to see it stated so plainly.

11 comments:

  1. Wait, there is an official list of what your spell affects, and you can read that list in your issue of Dragon magazine, but then you can't consult it in play?

    Yet you can consult your PHB in play?

    Er, why is that exactly?

    I can see "no rules lookups" but once you start allowing them, why can't I consult all manner of books? Or make a notebook of the stuff I need for my guy and consult that?

    It just seems like just another Gygaxian pronouncement of DM omnipotence, no more.

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  2. The fallacy of Gary's advice is that given enough time the player will learn the details. You can come up with new monster, new settings, etc but there are limits to doing that

    The problem especially comes up in setting used over multiple campaigns. As much of a genius Gygax and his fellow designers are one thing then we have today over them is experience with campaign and setting that last for decades.

    TI found the way to deal with this is to plan carefully the plot that connects personalities, situations, and locales that make the setting. With a well setup plot then it doesn't matter that you use bog standard creatures and items. Because the complications results from the situation you contrive. Perfect knowledge of the capabilities of the individual involves still won't resolve the problems.

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  3. "According to Gygax, 'the vast array of new monsters' found in books like the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II have left players and DMs alike wondering which humanoids are affected by the spells charm person and hold person. Was that the case?"

    Not for me. I just assumed that anything that was person-like in both mind & body was a person.

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  4. "Not for me. I just assumed that anything that was person-like in both mind & body was a person."

    Pretty much what we did, too.

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  5. I used this article, and kept a copy in my DM's materials. I was pretty literalist.

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  6. Same here. And the idea that you needed lists of creatures that count as persons (or as "giant-class humanoids", which was even worse) is one of my peeves.

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  7. The list itself is good for tournament settings I guess but overall I think a list like this should instead of "coming down from on high" like this one did instead be compiled by the group as a whole through play or they should have just went the way of 3.5 where the creatures type is specifically stated in its entry. Now on the closing comments I very much like it for the more traditional D&D games though honestly in newer editions, specifically 3.5 with all its splatbooks you probably need the books around just to remember everything you can do and in the 3.5 game I DM if a rules question comes up that we want officially solved it tends to turn into a scramble as everyone checks the 7 or 8 books we have in physical form while a couple use their laptops to look through all the 3.5 books and if it was just me it would take forever.

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  8. I can't wait for you to get to issue #96, where I hope you will treat "The Meanest of Monsters", pp 46, 51. (I actually used the Wandering Damage System Matrix in one of my dungeons.) Would love to hear your commentary on this priceless foolery.

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  9. I always wondered if articles like this increased the amount of rules-lawyering in campaigns, by showing that there must be explicit rules developed to cope with every contingency.

    Come to think of it, a lot of the Gygax fans I knew did tend to produce reams and reams of campaign information covering everything about their game, often in advance, that would mostly end up unused and unread, rather than letting their campaign evolve naturally.

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  10. "...a lot of the Gygax fans I knew did tend to produce reams and reams of campaign information covering everything about their game, often in advance, that would mostly end up unused and unread, rather than letting their campaign evolve naturally."

    Some people enjoy thinking & writing about games & game-worlds more than they enjoy actually playing games.

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  11. Oh I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this approach. It's just that I had just realised that quite a few of the people I know who self-identify as fans of Gygax tend to try and produce rules for every eventuality ahead of time, wanting to rely on having an already written rule covering that situation rather than be forced to make a judgement ruling on the spot (to the effect of having several large binders of rules which nobody will ever read).

    What does irritate me to a minor degree is that there is an increasing ownership of the game and rules by TSR (with columns like this one suggesting that this is how the game should be played), with the innate assumption that the written rules override the gamemaster. That is, providing a Supreme Court to obverrule the decisions of the individual Judge.

    It's a connection I hadn't really thought about before.

    As for people who enjoy thinking and writing about their games and game-worlds, without the players there to mess them up, well, I'd have to count myself as one of them to. I have a number of campaigns that will probably never have players and yet I will continue to refine them and the game system that runs them. Because it's fun.

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