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Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 44

USING MAGIC ITEMS

This section is relatively brief, but includes some of the most interesting (and for some, infuriating) bits of AD&D. It covers the need for activation words, scrying, the use of potions and oils, what happens when you mix potions, and guildelines for how level drain works.

Command Words
In first edition, command words were a big deal. You couldn't automatically use magic items you were found, until you actually worked out how to do it. Sometimes, as the book points out, the command word may be etched on the item itself. Other times, the item may come with a scroll or an effective "instruction manual" for its use.

Often, the book points out, the most effective way of getting the activation phrase is to interrogate the foe who had it before you. Beyond this, one must turn to spells. Here's the interesting part: identify is not listed as one of the spells that can be used to uncover a command word. While that spell can tell you what an item does, i…

The Evolution of "Basic" D&D

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It's a wild understatement to say that Dungeons & Dragons has gone through a lot of iterations, forms, and incarnations over the years. One of the first big schisms in the game came very early on, when the original version of the game evolved into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

I admit to being a bit fuzzy on the specific details of this evolution; it's possible that TSR originally intended to continue publishing OD&D alongside AD&D (otherwise, the need to clarify that the new game was "Advanced" seems superfluous), or it could simply have been a branding change. Regardless, around this time, they also decided that it might be a good idea to offer a "Basic" version of the game, to introduce new players.

Enter Eric Holmes, and the beginning of what would become the first "Edition Wars" in the history of the game. These edition wars continue even down to today's fans of the game, many of whom are starkly (and harshly) dismissive of…

I'm Still Here!

Just a quick note to let everyone know I haven't slagged off the blog (again). Besides holiday madness, there's been a family illness that has been consuming a lot of time and stress lately, and I'm also in the middle of writing a fairly long blog about the development of Basic D&D. I hope to have that posted soon, but I'm working to get it as right as possible.

I can use all the good thoughts and support for the in-laws side of my family right now, so any good energy or prayers you can spare are appreciated.

Beyond that, I'll get the next "Reading AD&D" blog up as soon as I get through this Basic D&D one, which is going to dovetail with one that Tim Brannan is doing over at The Other Side.

That's about all. Just a quick update on what I've been doing.

Happy Holidays!

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 43

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MAGICAL RESEARCH
Buckle in, folks, because this is a fairly long section that's quite intensive. You know, I've seen a lot of people talk about how difficult it was in older editions to research spells, create magic items, and the like, but the truth is, the rules and guidelines in this section are quite comprehensive and cover just about every aspect of magical research you could want to explore. The rules herein are also very hard to abuse, as they put a great deal of onus onto the heads of the DM and player to collaborate, but as with most things in AD&D, leaves the power firmly in the hands of the DM.

The rules, as they sit, are as uneven as any in AD&D--that is to say, some are quite well thought out, while others are clearly in place for game balance reasons, but in the overall context of the AD&D game universe and cosmology, are problematic.

These systems, such as they are, are divided into what is essentially three sections: creation of holy/unholy water by…

(Material) Spell Components in Dungeons & Dragons

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If there's anything in Dungeons & Dragons which is as controversial as alignment, and possibly even more roundly ignored, it's the idea of spell components. Some argue they are extraneous and irritating and ignoring them has no measurable effect on the game. Others argue that ignoring spell components entirely in D&D ignores an important--nay, vital--balancing element in the game. This article will examine spell components, how they developed in the course of the game, and the important role they play, at least starting with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons iteration of the game.

To be clear, in the context of this article, unless otherwise noted, "components" refers specifically to material components, as opposed to somatic and verbal components. Pretty much everyone agrees that if you bind a wizard's hands and gag him, he won't be casting any spells. Indeed, that's standard procedure for parties wishing to capture a spellcaster without killin…

Alignment and Dungeons & Dragons

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So let's talk alignment. For decades now, Alignment has been one of the most hotly contested aspects of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Many people consider it to be either extraneous or some sort of limiting factor for playing characters. Some think it's "stupid." Many simply eschew it entirely, removing it from their game.

Others do use it as a hard definer as to how one is supposed to play their character. Both of these approaches fail to take into account the purpose of alignment in D&D...which, granted, is a difficult one to wrap one's head around.

Alignment is both an inherent and important part of the D&D cosmology, and an important descriptor of who your character is, what they believe, and how they view the cosmos. The key word here, however, is descriptor. Alignment describes your character; it doesn't lock them in a box.

Alignment in OD&D Alignment first appeared in the earliest version of the game, but had only one axis: law and chaos…

Age of Conan in AD&D

Most of my Conan gaming posts have revolved around the original version of D&D, using Chainmail as the basis for the combat and rules systems. There are a lot of people out there, however, for whom AD&D is their preferred edition.

The good news is, it's quite possible to apply about 90% of my tweaks to OD&D in an AD&D sense. There are already Hyborian Age tweaks to Conan available in the TSR Conan modules Conan Unchained, Conan Against Darkness, and Red Sonja Unconquered.

These cover such things as Fear Factor, Heroism and Luck (with "Luck Points" filling a similar role to my own Fate Points), Healing, and an overview of the Hyborian World, including monsters, magic users and the like.

These, however, can be difficult to get hold of; instead, my own Age of Conan resources can, by and large, graft right onto AD&D, or for those who do have them, my own tweaks to the game can be applied directly on top of these to expand the presentation.

Magic Instead o…

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 42

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THE ONGOING CAMPAIGN

There's a lot to dig into, in this section, which encompasses only about 2.5 pages of text, but is crammed with information. It begins with a discussion of how to keep excitement in your game when it becomes rote. This is something, I think, most long-term DMs can empathize with. There comes a point where you realize you're recycling ideas and there are only so many city murder mysteries, political intrigue stories, and standard dungeon crawls your characters can handle, and you want to kick it up a notch.

The section discusses the delicate balance of keeping the game challenging and dangerous, but not so deadly as to be un-survivable. It notes that there always has to be a balance between gain, loss, and risk, and that in a long campaign there needs to be an overarching story--what in modern terms is called a "big bad." It says that this big bad doesn't have to feature in every game, and indeed probably shouldn't feature until the mid-le…