Sunday, October 30, 2016

The El Raja Key DVD Archive Is Out And I Must Eat My Words

A few weeks ago, I posted about the imminent release of Rob Kuntz's El Raja Key DVD Archive.  It's an exciting product, featuring 1,000+ files full of Rob's maps, notes, and other materials from the games he ran in the 1970s.  I'd intended that post to drum up some support for Rob's work, but in the process I made some unfounded comments about 'Rob's lack of timeliness'.  Those comments, intended in the spirit of good humour though they were, were out of line.  Rob's extensive body of work speaks for itself, and I - who don't know him personally or professionally (and can barely even run a timely blog, let's face it) - have no place taking cracks at the man.  I hope he can accept my apology, and we can move on from this.

In this instance I'm quite happy to admit that I was wrong, because the Archive is out!  Right now!  If you want to check it out, head over to and take a look.  I honestly haven't been this interested in a new RPG-related product in years (perhaps since Castle Zagyg).  I'll admit it, I'm a mark for any material from D&D's earliest days, so I was always on the hook for this one.  I have to admit - and I only have screenshots to go on - it looks even better than I was expecting.  (That's not a slight: my expectations were pretty high at the outset.)  The interface has a cool retro look, and the sample images that can be found on the blog ( look great.  This is what I wanted from Castle Zagyg - the notes and maps as they were, untouched, and apparently with loads of historical commentary.

Unfortunately for me, it's that hellish nightmare time of the year, the time for creeping dread and unknown horrors.  No, not Halloween, I mean Christmas.  As usual money is tight this time of year, so I must endure the agonising wait to order the Archive until January.  I'll most probably do a follow-up post after that, giving my thoughts on the Archive, at least as an overview (something tells me it'll take more than a couple of weeks to really dig in to it).  I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

AD&D Players Handbook part 29: 5th-level Cleric Spells

AD&D provides ten 5th-level spells for clerics, up from the six that were in OD&D.  Carrying over from the previous edition we have commune, dispel evil, insect plague, quest and raise deadCreate food was a 5th-level spell in OD&D, but in AD&D got shifted down to 3rd level.  Atonement, cure critical wounds, flame strike, plane shift and true seeing are all-new.

Atonement: This spell, new in AD&D, grants atonement to any character for deeds done against their will, i.e. when under mind-control or some other outside influence.  It doesn't work on deeds done deliberately, or those that the character has no remorse for.  It also removes the effects of magical alignment change.  It's a niche spell, but very useful when said niche must be filled, especially for paladins and clerics.  (I guess this is confirmation that the gods - or whatever entities or forces govern the universe - recognise the difference between acts done unwillingly, and those done willingly, and that they value repentance.)

Commune: The cleric contacts their deity, or the deity's agents, and can ask a number of "yes or no" questions that are always answered correctly.  The DM is encouraged to put a limit on the amount this spell can be used, as the gods get annoyed with this sort of thing (probably given concrete rules in the Dungeon Masters Guide).

The implication of this spell is that all of the gods are all-knowing; how else would they have the answers to any possible question a cleric might ask?  I'm not a fan of this, as I prefer the gods to be more fallible than that, as they often are in mythological tales.

In OD&D, clerics casting this spell were allowed three questions, but here that number is now one per caster level.  In OD&D, the spell was limited to one use per week, as opposed to AD&D's nebulous guidelines.  It also had a special "one time a year" casting that allowed double the normal number of questions, which has been cut out of the AD&D version completely.

Cure Critical Wounds: The next step up in the healing spell hierarchy, this spell heals 3d8+3 hit points.  It can also be reversed to cause damage.  I'm surprised that this is debuting so late; OD&D was really lacking in high-end healing spells.

Dispel Evil: Causes any evil summoned creature to return to its home plane, or place of origin.  It lasts for 1 round per level, and is delivered with  touch, so I wonder if multiple creatures can be so dispelled?  While it's in effect, evil summoned creatures suffer a -7 penalty to hit the caster.

It also says that it works on "monsters enchanted and caused to perform evil deeds".  Does that mean characters that have been charmed?  I'm not sure how that would work.  I can understand applying the to-hit penalty, but should they be banished to their home plane?  What if they're from the Prime Material?  Would the spell banish a possessing entity, or dispel the charm?  It's all a bit vague.

The OD&D version of the spell was a higher-level version of dispel magic, that worked on any "evil sending or spell".  In effect, it reads to me like a completely different spell.  Oh yeah, it was originally written as dispell evil, but Gary learned some grammar and spelling between editions.

Flame Strike: A very rare damage-dealing cleric spell makes its debut here.  It creates a column of flame that deals 6d8 damage (save for half).  Doesn't get much more basic than that, does it?

Insect Plague: Creates a swarm of insects that obscures vision and deals 1 point of damage per round to anyone within the area.  It also causes all creatures of less than 5 Hit Dice to check morale or flee, while those of less than 2 Hit Dice flee automatically.  Mostly the spell seems useful for frustrating spellcasters and dispersing low-level opponents.  Smoke will drive insects away, and most area damage spells will temporarily clear a space.

The OD&D version of the spell was very different.  Firstly, the caster could direct the insects, whereas in AD&D the spell is stationary.  The OD&D spell had an area of 36 square inches, while AD&D gives it a 36" diameter.  The spell didn't deal any damage in OD&D, but it automatically routed creatures of 3 Hit Dice (while seemingly having no effect on those higher).  AD&D dropped the range from 48" to 36".  Lastly, in OD&D the spell could only be used above ground, which might be the biggest difference of all.

Plane Shift: This spell can be used to transport the caster and up to seven others (or maybe six, it's not super-clear) to another plane of existence.  The material component is a forked metal rod, with the size and type of metal determining which plane is reached.  (This is another thing I expect to be explained in the DMG.)  It can be used as an offensive spell as well, if you feel like sending your enemies to Hell or something.

Quest: Ah, quest, the favoured tool of tyrannical DMs everywhere.  The victim of this spell is forced to undertake some task for the cleric, and for every day that they avoid the task they suffer a cumulative -1 penalty to all saving throws.  I've never seen this one used by PCs, as in my experience players like to do important tasks themselves.  As alluded to above, I've mostly seen it used by DMs to force players into an adventure.  If you said that the game would be better off without this spell, I wouldn't disagree with you.
  The major difference between this and the OD&D version of the spell is that OD&D clerics could curse those who avoid the quest with pretty much anything they wanted.  Sometimes OD&D went a little too far in leaving things to the DM.

Raise Dead: Can raise the following creatures from the dead: dwarves, gnomes, half-elves, halflings and humans.  Not monsters, not animals, and most notably not elves and half-orcs.  No explanation is given here for why those races can't be raised; I'm pretty sure that later on it's explained that they have no souls, but at this point it's a mystery.
  The spell can also be reversed as slay living.  (I've never considered this before, but elves and half-orcs should be immune to the reversed spell as well.)  Good clerics are warned against indiscriminate use of the spell, generally only being allowed to use it on people they know are super-evil.
  In a neat touch, raise dead can be used on newly created undead (as when used on a regular corpse, it can be dead no longer than 1 day per caster level).  It won't work on skeletons, though, because the spell doesn't restore lost body parts.  (It's not stated, but it probably shouldn't work on any incorporeal undead either.)
  Looking at the OD&D version of the spell, I'm surprised to see that it worked on Men, Elves and Dwarves, and excluded Hobbits.  That's going to be a hard one to reconcile.  Looking back at the post where I first covered this spell (waaaay back in 2009) I took a stab at it thusly: "I'll tie this into the waning of the elven peoples - as they grow weaker in life, so they are drawn ever more strongly to the realm they reside in after death. With Hobbits and other creatures, I'm theorizing that it actually takes contacting the land of the dead to return the departed soul to life - wherever hobbits go when they die hasn't been discovered yet."  That's a decent start, and allows me to explain how this spell will work on other creatures later on as well.  Alternatively, I could tie it in to the 3rd edition idea that dead creatures have to want to come back in order to be raised successfully.  If Hobbits are content in the afterlife, it's very probable that they'll want to stay there unless they are the rare adventurous sort.

True Seeing: This spell allows the caster to see things as they really are.  Not only does it see through illusions, but it reveals invisible, ethereal and astral creatures, as well as secret doors.  It even lets the caster see a creature's "aura", revealing their alignment.  Even polymorphed creatures will be seen in their original form.  The spell can be reversed, and the target will see things as their opposites.
  The material components for this spell ensure that it won't be overused.  It requires an eye ointment made from mushroom powder, saffron and fat that must be aged for 1-6 months.  (The reversed spell instead uses ointment made from oil, poppy dust and pink orchid essence.)  The ingredients have no value listed, but the time needed is the real factor in limiting this spell.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

AD&D Players Handbook Part 28: 4th-Level Cleric Spells

Clerics have ten 4th-level spells in AD&D.  Five of those have carried over from OD&D: cure serious wounds, neutralize poison, protection from evil 10' radius, speak with plants and sticks to snakes.  Four are all-new: detect lie, divination, exorcise and tongues.  The last spell - lower water - was in OD&D, but only as a 6th-level magic-user spell.

Cure Serious Wounds: A touch spell that heals 2d8+1 points of damage, which can also be reversed as cause serious wounds.  The OD&D version of the spell is exactly the same, except that it healed 2d6+2 points of damage.  Although the OD&D spell appears to be slightly less powerful, it should be noted that characters in that game had less hit points than those in AD&D.

Like cure light wounds, there are a number of creature types that this spell can't affect.  This includes all creatures that can only be hit by silver, iron or magical weapons.  I wonder what the rationale is here?  From memory, most of the relevant monsters at this point are things like demons, undead, gargoyles, and similarly fantastical beings.  Those kinds of creatures being unaffected by cure spells seems fair enough, but I feel as though there'll be monsters added to the game later that don't quite fit this mold.  I'm tempted to tie this immunity back to Gygax's idea about creatures with immunity to normal weapons existing in multiple planes of reality.  So far, it's the only concrete thing we have to go on regarding the topic, so I'm going to run with it.

Detect Lie: A new spell that allows the caster to tell if the target is telling the truth.  It can be reversed as undetectable lie, which either counters detect lie or makes complete untruths seem reasonable.  Detect lie requires gold dust to cast, while its reverse requires brass dust; in neither case is the value of the required dust indicated.

Divination: This new spell reveals information about an area such as a small forest or a section of a dungeon level: strength of monsters, value of treasure, and the chance that invaders will incur the wrath of a powerful supernatural being.  The chance of obtaining accurate information starts at 60% and climbs by 1% per caster level.
  The spell components required are incense, a holy symbol, and a sacrificial creature.  Perhaps it's my background as a player of BECMI and 2nd edition AD&D, but I'm surprised that's in there.  I wonder how sacrificing animals affects PCs of good alignment?  I'd be inclined to be allow it.  Lawful good clerics aren't forced to be vegans, so I don't see why they can't sacrifice a goat or a sheep or whatever.  No humans allowed, of course.  Hobbits are a toss-up.

Exorcise: Frees a single target from any form of possession by an outside force.  It can also be used on any item that contains a creature's soul, and will force said soul into its nearest material body.
  The spell description is written in the standard over-complicated Gygaxian style, so I'm not entirely sure how it works.  I think the caster rolls d100 to randomly determine the base chance of success.  That base chance is modified up or down by comparing the caster's level to that of the possessing entity or magic.  The caster gets to roll every turn to determine success, and can seemingly keep rolling forever.  To me it looks as though the spell will always work eventually, unless its interrupted for some reason.  The chance of success can also be increased by using a holy relic, but that seems a bit pointless unless you need the spell to succeed really quickly.

Lower Water: What was one a 6th-level spell for magic-users is now available as a 4th-level cleric spell.  It causes water (or "similar fluid", whatever that means) to lower by 5% per caster level.  Area of effect is also increased by caster level, and the spell can be reversed to return liquid to its normal height.  Material component is a pinch of dust.
  The OD&D version of this spell lowered water to a flat 50%, so it's not as effective in that regard.  It's range was 24" though, which is double that of the AD&D version.  The duration was 10 turns, whereas AD&D has a duration of 1 turn per level.  The OD&D spell wasn't reversible.
  (I wonder, would blood be considered a "similar liquid"?  Could you lower the blood inside a creature, perhaps causing it to pass out?  The answer, of course, is "fuck off with that bullshit", but it's something to think about.)

Neutralize Poison: This spell completely removes poison from any creature or object touched.  Not only can this be used to heal a character who has been poisoned, but it can also make a poisonous snake harmless, or remove the venom from a trap or weapon.  Using the spell to remove poison from monsters is a genius move, and one I have never seen or thought of.  I've read this spell description before, but only on a careful reading now am I realising that this can be done, and it's super-cool.
  The spell can also be reversed as poison, which requires a touch attack and will kill the target on a failed save.  Is this the lowest-level save-or-die effect?  I think it might be.
  The OD&D version of this spell was a bit vague.  It was said to counter the harmful effects of poison, but specifically notes that it won't help characters that have been killed by poison.  I guess the same applies to the AD&D spell as well: while it will purge the poison from the body, it won't restore the victim to life.  Makes sense, I guess, but it does limit the spell's usefulness by quite a bit.

Protection From Evil, 10' Radius: Works exactly like protection from evil, except that the area of effect is a 10' radius globe around the caster, and the duration is increased.  This means that it completely hedges out conjured or enchanted creatures (devils, demons, imps, etc.), inflicts a -2 penalty to attack rolls on all evil creatures, and grants allies +2 to saves.  It can, of course, be reversed to affect good creatures.
  The main difference from the OD&D spell is that that version only gave a penalty/bonus of -1/+1.  It also had a flat duration of 12 turns, whereas AD&D gives a duration of 1 turn/level.

Speak With Plants: The caster of the spell can converse with plant life within a 6" circle.  The spell is a little contradictory.  It says that the caster can command thickets to part to enable easy passage, or make vines entangle pursuers.  Then it says that the spell can't animate non-ambulatory vegetation.  Which is it?  I would rule that small movements like those mentioned above are possible, but that plants can't move from where they are rooted, or be commanded to make attacks with branches, or really do anything beyond make nuisances of themselves.
  The OD&D spell is much the same as this version.  The only significant difference is that the duration was a flat 6 turns, while AD&D has a duration of 1 round/level.  (This could either be about the same or a significant drop, depending on how you interpret the use of turns in OD&D.)

Sticks to Snakes: Transforms one stick per caster level into a snake that can be commanded to attack.  Each snake has a 5% chance per caster level of being venomous (though no indication of the strength of the venom is given).  The spell can work on objects like spears and torches, but won't affect magic items.  The spell can be reversed as snakes to sticks, either to temporarily transform regular snakes into harmless sticks, or to counter the regular version of this spell.
  In OD&D the caster created 2-16 snakes, with a flat 50% that they were poisonous.  The duration was 6 turns (as opposed to 2 rounds/level) and the range was 12" (which is now radically shortened to 3").  Overall, I'd say the AD&D spell is on average deadlier; as I read the OD&D version you roll once to determine if all your snakes are poisonous, whereas in AD&D you roll individually.  Individual rolls mean that you're bound to get some poisonous snakes, and the chance goes up as you gain levels.

Tongues: A new spell that allows the caster to speak the language of any creatures with 6".  It even works on alignment languages, which is slightly surprising.  The reversed form of the spell makes verbal communication within the area of effect impossible.  I can see players attempting to use this version of the spell to disrupt spellcasting, but I would absolutely not allow that.  Spells are a means of manipulating reality, and not a form of communication.