Thursday, July 29, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 8

CLERICAL SPELLS: The brief run-down of how clerical magic works goes through the basics, such as the fact that OD&D clerics don’t cast spells at first level. It is said that they don’t have to study spells to master them, which just means that they don’t use the Chance to Know Spell table that magic-users do. No, clerics are lucky sods in that they have access to every single spell on their spell list. This was fine when clerics were mostly defensive, and had a small list of spells. But once the spell list expands, and clerics get a host of offensive options, it gets problematic. Thankfully, that time is well out of the purview of Holmes’s Basic Set.


The list of 1st level cleric spells is the same as that from OD&D, with the addition of two new spells: remove fear and resist cold.

Cure Light Wounds: This spell is identical to the OD&D version, with a couple of minor changes. OD&D is often vague about the distinction between rounds and turns, and there it says that the spell cures the target over the course of one turn. The Basic Set clarifies this as meaning one melee round. It also specifically says that hobbits can benefit from the spell (in OD&D they were alluded to with a dismissive etcetera), and mentions that the caster has to touch the target for the spell to take effect.

Detect Evil: Just like the OD&D version.

Detect Magic: Also the same as the OD&D version.

Remove Fear: This spell does what it says on the tin: it lessens fear in the target touched by the cleric. Against magical fear it grants another saving throw (with a bonus), but it doesn’t mention anything about non-magical fear, such as in an NPC who has failed a morale check. I’d be inclined to have it automatically dispel any non-magical kind of fear.

Resist Cold: This spell protects against regular cold, grants a save bonus against cold attacks, and lessens any damage taken from said cold attacks. It’s of a lower level than its counterpart resist fire, probably because the latter is a much more common form of attack.

Light: This is the same as the version cast by magic-users. See previous blog posts for the differences from OD&D.

Protection From Evil: Again, it's the same as the version of the spell cast by magic-users, with all the differences detailed there.

Purify Food and Water: This is just like the OD&D version, but now it has a range of 10 feet.


This spell list is the same as that in Supplement I, with the addition of two spells: Know Alignment and Resist Fire.

Bless: Just like the version in OD&D.

Find Traps: Just like the spell in OD&D.

Hold Person: The major difference here is that the spell’s effect gets a proper explanation. In OD&D it is described as being similar to charm person, with nothing further said. Here it is clarified as the paralyzation spell that we all know and love. Also, in OD&D clerics cast this spell with a greater range and duration than magic-users. In the Basic Set, the cleric does not get these extra bonuses.

Know Alignment: This spell tells the caster the exact alignment of the target, even going so far as to indicate exactly how evil, good, chaotic or lawful he or she is. It’s a handy spell for players, that’s for certain, but a problematic one for DMs. I’m not entirely opposed to the existence of it, but I do think it should be higher level than it is.

Resist Fire: This spell grants a save bonus and damage reduction against fire. It doesn’t work against prolonged exposure though; if you’re stuck in a fire for longer than two rounds, the spell won’t protect you any more.

Silence: 15’ Radius: Just like the spell in Supplement I.

Snake Charm: The only difference from the spell as presented in Supplement I is that the duration is clarified, as hostile snakes are charmed for a shorter time than docile ones.

Speak With Animals: Just like the spell from OD&D.

EVIL CLERICS: They're no longer called Anti-Clerics, unfortunately. Their reversed spells now get actual names; cure light wounds becomes cause light wounds, detect evil becomes detect good, light becomes darkness, purify food and water becomes contaminate food and water, remove fear becomes cause fear and bless becomes curse.

Monday, July 26, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 7


The spell list given here is the same as from Supplement I, with two new spells added: Audible Glamer and Ray of Enfeeblement.

Audible Glamer: Simply put this spell allows the caster to create illusory sounds, equal to 2-8 people conversing normally. A greater volume of sound can be created by higher level casters. To be honest, I'm kind of surprised that this hadn't already been created for the Illusionist class.

Continual Light: This spell has been hugely depowered. Whereas in OD&D it cast light in a 240 foot diameter, now it does so in a measly 60 foot diameter.

Darkness: This spell was formerly known as Darkness 5' Radius. That 5' Radius mentioned is important. Holmes has interpreted that as a typo, taking it to mean 5" Radius – which in OD&D terms means 50 feet. A strict by-the-book reading of the original spell would have had it affecting an area about 10 feet in diameter, while this version affects a 100-foot diameter. Certainly the Holmes version is much more useful.

Detect Evil: Just like the spell in OD&D.

Detect Invisible: Just like the spell in OD&D.

ESP: Whereas before the spell was said to be used for detecting the thoughts of creatures lurking behind doors or in darkness, it is now clarified that the spell can affect any creature within range. Also, we now learn that the undead do not think, and are thus immune to the spell. What, even vampires and liches?

Invisibility: This spell is the same as in OD&D, but it does not refer back to Chainmail. Characters being unable to remain invisible while attacking is also made much clearer.

Knock: Just like the spell in OD&D.

Levitate: The spell description here leaves out the speed at which the target can move, which is strange. Holmes is usually very good at including all of the details. He’s added a range to the spell that shows how far away the caster can be to cast it upon others (as opposed to the range that determines how far away from the original point the target can move.)

Locate Object: A duration of 2 turns is provided for this spell.

Magic Mouth: Just like the spell in Supplement I (except that example character Flubbit the Wizard has been removed).

Mirror Image: Just like the spell in Supplement I.

Phantasmal Forces: Just like the spell in OD&D, except that it specifies that the illusion only has a visual component; it does not have sound or smell. The caster’s going to have to be mighty clever to create a convincing silent monster.

Pyrotechnics: Just like the spell in Supplement I.

Ray of Enfeeblement: This spell creates a ray that drains the target of 4 points of strength. This loss of strength also causes the target’s damage output to drop by 25%.

Strength: In Supplement I, this spell gave a Cleric 1d6 points of strength, and a Thief 1d4 points. In the Basic Set this has been reversed, with Clerics getting 1d4 and Thieves getting 1d6. It’s a strange reversal, and I wonder myself if it was a typo. But I like anything that boosts Thieves, so I’m in favour.

Web: The range of this spell has been cut from 30 feet to 10 feet. Otherwise it’s the same, with the addition of a line stating how long it takes a normal man to break through the web. And it’s also really helpful that the spell no longer refers you back to the Staff of Wizardry entry to learn how it works.

Wizard Lock: Just like the spell in OD&D, except that it now has a specific range.


The list of 3rd level spells is given, and is identical to the one from Supplement I. But no spell descriptions are given; Holmes has provided the list as an example of what the more powerful spells are, leaving the details either to the DM, or to other D&D products.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lone Wolf

I have blogged before about how the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks had a massive influence on me as a gamer. Of nearly equal importance is the Lone Wolf gamebook series by Joe Dever.

The major difference between Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy is the former's emphasis on the continuing story. Where every FF book was stand-alone, in Lone Wolf you carry your character forward through the books, keeping your stats and abilities, and any equipment you've gathered along the way. You can play each book as a stand-alone as well, but in general you'll be better off if you've completed the previous installments.

The story is fairly basic yet compelling. Lone Wolf is a low-ranked member of the Kai Lords, a group of warrior monks with mad skills and psychic abilities. They've all gathered together for the annual Feast of Fehmarn, and that's when the evil Darklords of Helgedad make their attack and wipe out the Kai. With the Kai out of they way, the Darklords are all set to conquer the world. Except - Lone Wolf survived. As the last of the Kai, he has to reach the King and then find a way to defeat the evil armies. From there it branches out into tracking down a war criminal, investigating a missing gold shipment, a diplomatic mission, and a bunch of other stuff that gets more and more epic as time goes on.

Besides the gameplay, which is about as good as gamebooks get, Joe Dever's Magnamund is an excellent example of a fantasy world created using very few of the standard elements. You won't find orcs or elves in Magnamund (though you will find shotgun-wielding dwarves in flying ships). It's a great setting that comes more and more alive with each book.

The best part? The majority of the series is available for free right here. Joe Dever has very graciously made the books free for download on the internet, and there's even a lovely interface so you can play them while on-line. If you've ever enjoyed Choose Your Own Adventure style books, or any other gamebooks, you should give it a go. They're pretty awesome.

Monday, July 12, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 6

Thief Saving Throws: While I was going over the saving throw rules, I missed the changes relating to the Thief class. Originally, they had the same saving throw numbers as Magic-Users, but now they save as Fighters. This isn't a massive difference at the low levels the Holmes set operates on, but it's still a seemingly arbitrary alteration to the rules. Perhaps Holmes wanted to equate the two non-spellcasting classes with each other, which makes a certain amount of sense.


The list of spells provided here is the same as that from Supplement I, with three additions: dancing lights, enlargement and Tenser's floating disc are all new spells.

Charm Person: There are no changes here, and the saving throw frequency based on the victim's intelligence is incorporated from Supplement I.

Dancing Lights: This spell creates 1d6 floating balls of light. They follow instructions, and can also mimic the appearance of light sources carried by an adventuring party. It has a much shorter duration than light, but it's a little more versatile. This is the first appearance of this spell in the game, which makes me wonder if it got ported over from AD&D, which was in development around the time the Holmes boxed set was released.

Detect Magic: This one is exactly as written in the OD&D booklets, but it also includes the range and duration from Supplement I.

Enlargement: Like it says on the tin, this is a spell to make an object bigger. It doubles the size of non-living matter, and increases living matter by one-half. (I wonder, what would undead count as?) The spell specifically states that the spell can't be used to enhance any magic items; although they will get bigger, their magical properties will remain the same. This even goes for potions, which still require the whole thing to be imbibed before it will take effect. This is another brand new spell, again possibly cribbed from Gary's AD&D notes.

The main problem here is that there are no mechanical effects provided for when a character gets enlarged. How much stronger is he? Is he easier to hit? Able to inflict more damage? At this point it's left completely up to the DM.

Hold Portal: This spell is identical to that in the OD&D booklets, except that Holmes has given it a range of 10 feet.

Light: There is a major change to this spell from OD&D, in that Holmes has given the spell a range of 120 feet. Before this no range was given, and I would probably have ruled that it creates a light that hovers just over the caster's shoulder. But this gives it a whole lot more versatility. It's also clarified that the caster can turn the spell off before the maximum duration is reached. Whether this applies to other spells as well is left unclear. There's a line at the end regarding dismissing the spell that says "the caster would not be able to cast the spell again during that game". This could be interpreted a number of ways. I'm taking it as an erroneous reference to D&D's magic system, and say that the Magic-User can of course cast Light again that day provided he has another memorised.

Magic Missile: While this is much the same as the spell from Supplement I, Holmes has gone with a very idiosyncratic interpretation. The original spell says that it works just like a magic arrow. Holmes has taken this as literally as possible, and requires an attack roll for the spell to hit, whereas all later versions of the game have the spell striking automatically. This interpretation makes it a fairly weak spell at low levels, I think. A magic-user can already throw daggers for 1d6 damage, and the only advantage this spell grants is an extra +1 damage and a better range.

Protection from Evil: The basics of this spell are the same as in OD&D, but there's one big difference. In OD&D, this spell's bonuses did not stack with magic armour and rings of protection. In this version, it explicitly does stack with those items, making it much more useful. (Although, given that the spell can only benefit the caster, it's unlikely that magic armour will ever be a factor.)

There's also a clarification, in that OD&D had evil monsters suffering a -1 penalty to hit dice when attacking. Holmes has changed this to hit probability, a much more reasonable penalty. And the 'enchanted monsters' that the spell protects from are specifically said to include elementals, invisible stalkers and demons.

Finally, there's one more potential change. The spell has a range of 0, which the Read Languages entry says means that the caster can cast it on himself or someone he is touching. In OD&D the spell only affected the caster, and the text of the Holmes version supports that interpretation. I'm probably going to follow the text here.

Read Languages: The spell has now been given a duration of 2 turns, and it can also be cast on someone the caster is touching. This was unclear before, but it seemed that only the caster could be affected.

Read Magic: Again, the duration of this spell is clarified to 2 turns, when previously it had been set at 1 or 2 readings. The effect of this spell on scrolls is also clarified. The caster need only use Read Magic on a scroll once, and he can read it freely at any time thereafter.

Shield: It's exactly like the spell in Supplement I. Nothing to see here, move along.

Sleep: Here's a strange one. The spell is given a duration of 4-16 turns at the beginning of the entry, and later on in the body of the text it is said to put creatures to sleep for 2-8 turns. I'm frankly mystified as to which it might be, as all previous versions of the spell had nothing to say regarding its duration. I'm inclined to go with 2-8 turns.

Tenser's Floating Disc: This new spell creates a floating platform that will follow the caster, and can carry up to 5,000 gold pieces in weight. It's pretty nifty, but the duration is only 6 turns; it's hardly the optimum way to carry treasure around for a long period of time.

The spell was designed by the wizard Tenser, who was "always greedy for more treasure". Tenser was a prominent character in the original Greyhawk campaign, played by Gary's son Ernie Gygax. It's the first time the character's name has appeared in an official product. Of course, he'll be lurking around as an NPC in my campaign.

Ventriloquism: This is exactly as described in Supplement I, except that now the name is spelled correctly. Note to Gary: it's not Ventriliquism!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 5

Reactions: Since monsters don't always attack, we need a way to figure out just how they react to adventurers. This is done by rolling 2d6 and finding the result on a table. This table has been slightly altered from the one in OD&D. The original table had just three results: negative reaction, uncertain reaction, and positive reaction. In the Basic Set version, a roll of 2 means the monsters will attack immediately, and a roll of 12 means they will be enthusiastic and offer their help. To be honest, I preferred the original - it was a little more flexible.

The rules for fleeing are partially included. Unintelligent monsters can still be distracted by food, and intelligent ones can be distracted by treasure. But OD&D had a little more complexity to the system, allowing for different degrees of intelligence. But props to Holmes for getting the basic ideas in.

Experience Points and Levels: The Basic Set uses the experience point system that was introduced in Supplement I. So while you still get one experience point for every gold piece worth of treasure found, monsters killed are worth much less than they were in OD&D.

I'm intrigued to see that treasure XP is awarded based on how the treasure is split. So, if one guy takes 500gp of the treasure and another guy takes 200, the first one gets a lot more XP. This even applies to rat bastard PCs who steal from their buddies. This is something that honestly never occurred to me, but then again our groups were sticklers for splitting the treasure evenly. It's something that never came up.

The chart for calculating monster XP is the same as that from Supplement I, with the sole exception that monsters under 1 Hit Die are lumped into one category, instead of split between ½ and 1-1.

The rule that characters killing weaker monsters receive a commensurately smaller amount of XP is retained. This gets me to wondering just how this is calculated when you have a party with a disparate level range. If Bob is 5th, Jim is 8th and Steve is 2nd level, how do you figure out the percentage? Do you take the average? Or does each character get a separate total based on his level alone?

Oh, and you still can't advance more than one level at a time.

Thief Abilities: No changes here: everything is still rolled on percentile dice, and you only get one try. The only thing of note is a new NPC, Drego the 1st level Thief. Always nice to have another fellow I can add to the Adventurers' Guild roster.

Clerical Abilities: Hey, Turning Undead gets an actual explanation! The rules are identical to those presented in OD&D in content, but in presentation they’re a lot clearer. And it helps greatly to be told just what happens when a monster is turned. OD&D was rather vague on the matter.

Magic Spells: This section gives an overview on spell-casting, and draws together a bunch of info from different sources, particularly some of Gary's articles from The Dragon. The requirement for magic-users to speak and gesture is one such bit of info, meaning that they are now specifically unable to cast while bound and gagged. Material components are also mentioned. Casting while walking or running is forbidden, as is casting while in melee. All of this stuff had been talked about previously, but this is the first time it appears in the core rules.

Magic-Users are forbidden from taking their spell books into the dungeon, but they can still create scrolls as per OD&D, and also research new magic.

The effect of Intelligence on spell-casting is brought in from Supplement I. So Magic-Users still have only a certain chance to be able to learn any spell, and also have a limit on the number of spells they can know. The table used hasn't been changed at all.

Malchor, a magic-user previously mentioned and brought into my campaign as an NPC, appears again. This time we learn that the poor bugger only has an Intelligence of 10.

The info as presented seems to apply solely to Magic-Users, not Clerics. In OD&D Clerics used spell books just like Magic-Users, but it seems that from this point on that's no longer the case.

Saving Throws: Nothing changes here, but it is noted that the undead are immune to poisons and spells that require a living mind. Oh, and zombies are apparently poisoned by salt. I suppose there's a mythological precedent for this? I kind of like it. (A bit of further research reveals that in voodoo, zombies that are made to taste salt will return to their graves, so it's a nice bit of work there from Mr. Holmes.)