Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 44


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, it doesn't necessarily instruct on its use. Rather, the listed spells for uncovoering command words include contact other plane, legend lore, or speak with dead (to call up the spirit of the prior user if they die in combat).

While on one hand this is gloriously devious for a DM, I've never enjoyed such complications. This is because generally as a DM, when I give my players a magic item, I want them to be able to use it, so putting roadblocks in front of them becomes as much a frustration for me as it does for them. Still, for things like wands that come up in random treasure generation rolls, it can be a fun puzzle for players to solve.

Crystal Balls and Scrying
This brief section talks about how magically sensitive characters may be aware that they are being scried. It refers the DM to the Detection of Invisibility table on page 60 to determine if they uncover the scrying effort. If they do, they can see a shimmer in the air where the scrying is breaking through, and can use detect magic or darkness to cancel out the scrying. Again, an interesting and oft-overlooked detail.

Drinking Potions
This section is full of fun detail. For example, while it takes only a segment to drink a potion, potions don't take effect for 2-5 segments after drunk. That means you don't heal hit points from a healing potion right away. You don't become invisible instantly from an invisibility potion. A potion of heroism takes some time to beef you up, etc.

The same goes for oils, though oils are delayed in their function because it takes between 2 and 5 segments to actually cover yourself with the goo before it kicks in.

Potion Miscibility
This is a bit that's been lost or glossed over in subsequent editions, and it's something that I always enjoyed. Yes, it's a bit evil on the part of the DM, and the consequences can be dire, but they can also be outstanding. You run the risk of instant death (or even, quite literally, exploding from the inside out,) but you also have the chance of, for example, gaining permanent effects from the potion (imagine a healing potion that gives you permanent regeneration every round!) It's a lot of fun with random numbers.

Energy Drain
Here's everyone's least favorite aspect of AD&D: energy drain. I cannot count how often I've seen, read, and heard people complain about how "unfair" or even "stupid" energy drain is, and how people prefer the fifth edition version to the original. That's fine and everyone's entitled to their personal tastes.

This section does, however, provide solid guidelines on how energy drain works. It's in this section because, apparently, it can happen by either undead or magical devices, though again this feels like it should be in its own section somewhere.

Essentially, when you get level drained, you lose the last level's hit points (including Con bonus), any abilities you gained at your most recent advancement, and your XP is reset to the mid-point of the prior level. This is pretty straightforward. Also, however, it talks about what happens if you're multiclassed (you lose a level in whatever class is highest, or if the classes are equal, you lose a level in the class that has the most "expensive" progression). If a level drain creature or device hits you and drains two levels, and you're multiclassed, you lose a level in each class.

If you hit 0 levels, you can never again gain levels. You're forever a basic commoner.

Next, it talks about undead creating spawn. Basically if you get drained to death by an undead, you become a half-powered version of the undead that drained you, and you see all your character class levels reduced to half. You're also under the absolute control of the undead that made you. If that undead dies, you start to gain levels again--one level for each level you, in turn, drain, in fact. You can only gain levels/ hit dice until you hit maximum for the monster plus your prior class levels. After that you're stagnant (if the DM even deems the character playable, which based on earlier sections of the DMG is not recommended).

Next up: TREASURE (which is going to be a slog to get through).



  1. Pretty sure you get reduced to level 0 with a level drain your character is dead, not level 0 forever. It has been many years but I had that book committed to memory at one time and that doesn't sound right. I could be wrong...wouldn't be the first time.

    1. Nope, it's very clear, if you get all your levels drained, you are 0-level forever. If you get drained AGAIN after that, you're dead. Page 199, DMG: "If this brings the character below 1st level of experience, then the individual is a 0 level person never capapble of gaining experience again. If a 0 level individual is drained an energy level, he or she is dead (possibly to become an undead monster)."

    2. I was actually surprised as well, because I thought I remembered that you simply died if you hit 0-level. But it's clear in the text.


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