Monday, May 16, 2011

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Part 12

There is an amazing amount of utility in this section...for players as well as DMs. This is yet another section of the DMG that really belongs in the PHB. However, unlike some of the other areas I've pointed out, it seems that much of this section is reactionary, that is to say, it was written in response to player abuses of spells and magical powers. If Gygax had ever gotten to do his second edition, I've no doubt much of this would've found its way into the PHB.

Day-to-Day Acquisition of Cleric Spells: There's some neat stuff in here that I'd completely forgotten since my first edition days. I love that Clerics cast first and second level spells based on their own divine power; if a deity withdraws his or her favor from a cleric, she does not lose her first and second level spells as a result. Even a change in alignment will not cost access to such spells, so long as the change is embraced with as much fervor and zeal as the original path the cleric trod.

Third through fifth level spells are granted in turn, not by the deity itself, but by powerful servitors of the god or goddess--angels, demons, yochlol, devils, archons, and other supernatural minions impart these abilities as mediators between the cleric and deity. This is of great interest, since now the cleric needs not only follow the strict tenets of the deity, but has to avoid pissing off or foiling the personal ambitions of its all-too-free-willed minion as well. Nobody ever said being a cleric should be easy.

This also opens up really interesting options for play; what if a cleric violates the tenets of his god, but the deity's angelic minion has fallen madly in love with the cleric? That minion could, feasibly, still grant powers. Where such a storyline would go is not in the purview of this thread, but it opens up intriguing possibility for drama and epic play.

It's only when a cleric gains access to sixth and seventh level spells (remember in first edition cleric spells only went up to level 7) that a direct line to the deity is gained. At this point the cleric has gained high enough level that the gods themselves sit up and take notice. There is also an unwritten implication and assumption that in AD&D, gods are not truly omnipotent. A deity doesn't provide spells and powers to low-level followers simply because he cannot be everywhere at one time. This also provides a convenient answer to why the gods don't solve all the world's problems.

I had a player in a modern game with epic overtones get continually annoyed and pissy that Odin and Michele (a version of the archangel Michael) would give the PCs hints and missions, but not solve the problems themselves. This player failed to grasp the concept that said powerful figures were involved in their own struggles against figures equally as powerful, and that some tasks had to be delegated to mortal heroes. Were they truly omnipotent, perhaps this wouldn't be an issue...though that opens up a whole new limitation. If a group of omnipotent beings go to war, imagine the widespread devastation that would take place without those on the mortal realms even knowing it.

But I digress. This is a debate that could go round in circles forever, and in the end in a fantasy game that involves such creatures, at some point an explanation like the above must be put on the table and accepted for the game to move forward. "They're not truly omnipotent and have their own problems to deal with" is as good an explanation as any.

There is also a (justifiably) harsh penalty on the heads of clerics who try to dance around amongst gods as it suits them. "There is no salvation for a thrice-changed cleric," Gygax writes, "he or she is instantly killed." (DMG 39)

There are a lot of bits in the DMG stressing the consistent playing of characters. This stands in stark contrast to later editions of the game (particularly the most recent) where such elements as alignment sometimes seem to exist only to present minor hurdles when performing what players call an "optimal build." For example, one intellectual experiment in 3.0 had a character, through prestige classes, adding every ability bonus except for one (Charisma, I think) to his AC, and "required just one alignment shift."

Acquisition of Magic-User Spells: Hey! here's where it tells you how many spells your magic-user starts play with! Who knew a player would have to consult the DMG for that? I can remember, once upon a time, choosing at each level the "Minimum Number of Spells per level" based on the Int Chart, then rolling the % chance to know spell for the rest of the spells to build a spell book (Up to the int-based maximum). It worked, gave the MU some flexibility, but it was more than possible to never be able to add another spell to your book, making found spell books much less useful. The DMG version (in which you gain one offensive, one defensive, and one miscellaneous spell, plus one spell per level up to any level you can cast) provides less flexibility, but more room to grow. However, it does leave some confusion as to what minimum spells per level means, exactly. To this day I can't really work that one out, so if someone could please reconcile the two, I'd appreciate that.

Acquisition of Illusionist Spells: Works mostly the same as for Magic Users, but Illusionists don't need "Read Magic," so they get one less spell at the start (Magic Users start with Read Magic automatically, in addition to their other three) and they roll on the illusionist spell table rather than the Off., Def., Misc. DMG lists that Magic-Users use.

Spells Beyond Those at Start: Here we have a tirade against allowing PC magic users to swap spells or get them easily from NPC magic users. The book suggests exorbitant prices for spell exchanges, and outright refusal of cooperation from henchmen or hirelings on this front. It then goes on to state (as it does several times) that "superior players" will be agreeable and understanding to such an economic setup.

To that I say, "Hrm."

It seems odd to me that in exchange for a second-level spell, a henchman will require two first, a second, and a third. What's to stop the PC from saying, "You want my third level spell? Really? Well, I'll take it, for three second levels, two first, and a fourth to be named later"?

The idea, of course, is that PCs are supposed to quest for spells, finding scrolls and books in ancient tombs and dungeons, or taking them from the bodies of fallen enemies, but the suggested restrictions here seem somewhat unreasonable. This is even considering that magic users, once they hit about fifth level, quickly rise to be the most powerful characters in the game.

As another side note, I've gotta say I'm finding the continual assertions about what constitutes a "superior player" quite amusing. Sometimes I agree, sometimes I don't, but it just seems this DMG spends an inordinate amount of time discussing what a superior player is and how superior players will handle situation x, etc.

Recovery of Spells: Ah, I miss this. You didn't have to get 8 hours of rest and learn all your spells at once, every day. Rather, you could rest for a few hours and recover spells as you go. The downside was that if you needed one or more 7th (or higher) level spells, you needed more than 8 hours (10 for 7-8 level, 12 for 9th), but if you only needed first and second level spells, you could take a four-hour breather and your magic user was rearing and ready to go.

Spell Casting: Hey, look at this! An explanation of the Vancian magic system for all the people who say "it's stupid that you forget spells."

Well, here's the kicker: you don't forget, per se. Rather, you expend the energy. The basic idea is that your spell prep is actually part of the spell casting process. By studying and preparing the spells (it is called "preparation," not "memorization" in first edition) you are in effect performing much of the rote and ritual required to cast. When you actually cast the spell, you're completing the ceremony and releasing the energy. Once this is done, the ritual must be re-performed. This is why the multiple preps for the same spells.

There's more to it, but this is a good breakdown of the process that again, third edition suffers for its exclusion.

Tribal Spell Casters: The section gives us a list of "tribal" societies--Bugbears, cavemen, ettin, giants, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, lizardmen, ogres, orcs, troglodytes, and trolls. These are the guys whose gods apparently suck. With shaman and witch doctors like these, who needs enemies? It's amazing these races are ubiquitous enough to pose a threat to the "good guys," given how much their spellcasters blow goats.

Okay, enough of that. I just found the limitations on spell abilities a bit irritating, here. Tribal spellcasters should absolutely have their own flavor...but the only flavor here is a renaming and "they just can't get as tough as good old elf wizards."

This is another of those sections wherein the notes should've been included in the PHB. However, I think here we have to go with the fact that the DMG was written after; thus, these notes are to curb perceived abuses of spells by players.

A few people here have said this is one of their favorite sections of the book, so before I move on here, I want to ask what folks would like me to address specifically here. It would be redundant to go through each listed spell note by note.

Overall I find this section quite useful, with great notes, advice, and clarifications of ideas like, "No, Detect Evil doesn't tell you the shopkeeper is NE in alignment. It will, however, tell you there's great evil radiating from that Devil in the back room (though not that there IS a Devil back there)." Or, "Dispel magic temporarily cancels out magic weapons, no save, for 1 round."

I also enjoy the illustrations of the glyphs and circles.

Also, for those who say there was no counterspelling in first edition, there are a great many notes here on which spells can counter other spells. Gust of Wind, for example, will disperse Obscurement.

Ugh, where to go here? There is TONS of great stuff in this section. Perhaps this is one where we should open the floor to discussion. Personally I like the cartoon on page 44 with the thief holding the wizard's familiar hostage, but that's probably moot

I feel fairly certain that a lot of these notes would've been included in Gygax's second edition vision, had it come to pass.


  1. However, it does leave some confusion as to what minimum spells per level means, exactly. To this day I can't really work that one out, so if someone could please reconcile the two, I'd appreciate that.

    Here's the explanation from the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion:

    "Minimum Spells per Level: This number reflects the minimum number of spells any character with the equivalent INT should be able to learn per spell level. Normally, once a character has rolled and failed to learn a spell that character may never learn the spell. However, if a character has rolled to learn all spells in the spell listings (or rolled for all spells for that level that are available in the campaign) the character may roll again to try to learn a spell that was previously failed. The player may choose which spell to roll for again, but that spell may be rolled for again only once unless all other spells in that spell level have been rolled for again. Then if the minimum is still not met, the player may choose again and roll again and this process continues until the minimum number of spells is acquired."

    No idea if that was the original concept, but it seems to make sense.

  2. That's kind of how I've always played it.