Classic Dungeons and Dragons and Old School Gaming

D&D etc.

"Heir to a crumbling summit: to a sea of nettles: to an empire of rust: to rituals' footprints ankle-deep in stone."

-Mervyn Peake

"...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped."

-Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The secret history of the Gygaxian Spell List


That was the first spell.  That's what some priests will tell you. But who knows? There were at least 8 different spellcasters at the dawn of magic in the world.  They formed schools and taught others what they had discovered.  Alteration was the most prolific and the most powerful at first. The school of Evocation had few spells but was dedicated to martial prowess. The young Evokers were constantly daring and dueling.  Abjurers, the magesmiths crafted Mage armor most of which no longer exists.  Of the lesser schools there are the extroverts: Enchanters and Illusionists and the introverts: Divination and Necromancy.  Of course, there were the Summoners. Some say they started it, others are sure it was the Evokers. Either way the Mage War lasted for generations. The Summoners fielded mages with battalions of crossbow wielding Unseen Servants upon whom the would cast Flame Arrow.  Then the Evokers developed the Fireball and Lightning bolt spells. The devastation wrought by these spells brought the first MageWar to a close, with a peace brokered by the school of Alteration, who would take the magic users into an age of exploration throughout the world via the Teleport spell or into the astral plane via accidents while using the Dimension Door spell. The illusionists, who along with the other lesser schools were but mercenaries during the Mage war began to increase the scale of their magic. They had always considered themselves artists, they were now treating the landscape as a canvas with the Hallucinatory Terrain spell. During this time the Evokers withdrew from the world, literally walling themselves off from the rest of the world behind fire and ice, iron and stone.

After a time the second Mage war occurred. This time the aggressors were the Necromancers who attacked the Evokers over long held grievances left over from the first Mage war.  The undead armies of the Necromancers nearly wiped out the Evokers before, ironically the Summoners newfound ability to Conjure Elementals put an end the the second Magewar.

For some time there was relative peace. During this peace there was friendly competition, even cooperation.  The wizards of this time began to see the divisions between the schools as artificial and they began learning from each other. This was a long period of prosperity as well as enlightenment, for with the Diviners newfound ability to Contact Outer Planes humanity was reaching far beyond previous understanding. Eventually a group of wizards, master of Summoning and Abjuration sought to tap the powers of beings from beyond. This cabal of Wizards was able to summon demons and bind them into their service with the Cacodemon, Spiritwrack and Trap the Soul spells.  Prosperity continued for a few short years before the demons were able to go free. These demons returned with an army and the third Mage war began. This time all wizards were united against this army of demonic aliens. The Mages of this era bore into the earth creating secret defenses and redoubts from the demons but the demons were able to penetrate and forever polute the magics of these places. It was a Summoner who eventually ended the final Mage war by casting a Wish spell so powerful it ended his life, but rid the world of the demon army.

Now, in the wake of this final Magewar against the otherworldly demons there is an uneasy truce amongst the magic-users of the world aided by the practice of wizards living in isolation in towers in the wilderness. Some chaotic magic-users and clerics (evil high priests) have chosen instead to dwell amongst the demons and monsters in the ruins of the underground fortresses created during the last Magewar.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Horror Movie Alignment

BX DnD does some funny things with alignment. Moldvay calls the three alignments "ways of life" and implies a link to morality but glosses over life and death choices of good and evil. I believe this is an attempt to keep things light for the intended gamer, "adults, ages 10 and up" and at the same time it allows for a simplification in the game. The alignments sorts monsters and NPCs into groups: the ones that are here for you to kill and take there stuff, ands the ones who aren't.

I don't use alignment in my games. The folks I play with aren't in it to act out sadistic fantasies, but their also not going to flinch at harsher tactics so it's not really an issue. I like the idea of the kind of cosmic alignment that LotFP uses, but by requiring Magic-Users to be chaotic and making Lawful characters rare (and boring) LotFP reduces the number of decision points that relate to Alignment and I think that's unfortunate because Player decisions are what make role playing interesting.

Looming large in the background of old school DnD are the old Universal and Hammer Horror flicks.  From the monster list to the equipment list and the Cleric's primary power it's pretty clear that these movies were a major inspiration. I think the mileu of classic horror could help inform the alignment system in an interesting way.

The following alignment system was made with these goals:
  1. Make explicit what is only implied in Moldvay BX because we don't need to worry about what moms in the 1980's are going to think anymore.
  2. Help to make the choices that are made in game interesting by having consequences for those choices.
  3. Redirect the imagined spiritual foundations (the gods and their impact on morality) of the game back towards something that would fit right in a classic horror movie  as opposed to the somewhat bland pantheism that has become the default for DnD. 
There are three alignments: Good, Neutral and Evil.

Good characters: 

  • Will talk or take other non-deadly action first before resorting to violence unless facing a known enemy or unintelligent creature.  
  • Will not torture.
  • Will not kill a helpless foe.

Neutral characters:

  • May kill to achieve goals.
  • May kill or torture enemy combatants.
  • Will not kill for fun.
  • Will not torture or kill innocents.

Evil characters:

  • Are bent on dominating or destroying their surroundings.
  • Will kill or torture for any reason.

Any character committing an act prohibited by their alignment must change their alignment from Good to Neutral or from Neutral to Evil. The DM must warn the Player of this prior to the character completing the action.

Good characters with a belief in God may pray for temporary Protection from Evil. By making a Saving Throw - the Evil foe's Level or HD a Good character will be protected for 1 round. Praying with a Holy symbol will allow a roll with advantage and the duration will be the Praying character's Level.

Evil characters with a belief in an Evil God may make a Saving Throw upon death to return as malicious undead. After animating they may Save again to remain as permanent undead. (At the DMs option this may be reserved for special creatures or creatures with one or more Levels in a character class)

Good and Evil characters receive a +1 to reaction rolls with similarly aligned creatures and -1 with creatures of the opposed alignment.