A Theory About Spell Descriptions in AD&D

I’ve been running Swords & Wizardry with the PC’s at name level for most of this year. Because the spells are often very vague, my players ask, “How does this work?” And I have to make a ruling on the spot. I’ve taken to looking the spell up in AD&D to see how they changed between editions. I noticed that my players ask specific questions that are often addressed in the AD&D spell descriptions.

Haste is a great example. Players have asked if haste speeds up spell casting. There’s nothing about that in the OD&D version but AD&D expressly states that that it does not. Several spells in AD&D also had very specific and long spell descriptions that seemed very curious…until my players hit high levels and then I started to catch on.

As Dan notes in this post, between Original D&D and Advanced D&D the ranges and duration of haste were reduced and a side effect of aging was added. I now understand why that happened. The OD&D version of the spell is POWERFUL in the hands of high level characters.

The S&W/OD&D version of haste doubles movement and attacks with no downside with up to 24 creatures effected by a single casting. One of the PC’s in my campaign is a 13th level monk. He can move 80′ and make three unarmed attacks that do 3d8+1 damage per combat round. Hasted he gets SIX attacks and moves 160′ per round. If my math is correct, he could do an average of 81 pts of damage in a round if all his attacks hit. 6 x ((8-1)+1/2) Max damage would be 150 hp!

The spell has a duration of 30 minutes. Characters anticipating a fight can receive the enchantment, activate any other magic devices that fit the situation, cover long distances, and get into a couple fights with only one casting of the spell. If you add a few magic items, or other “buff” spells cast on him in advance like strength, then it gets into superhero levels of power. Add a couple of high level fighters with magic armor and weapons, a wizard doing massive damage with area of effect spells and it takes a veritable army of monsters, a few very high powered monsters or equivalent level NPC’s to give them a little danger.

My thesis is that Gary’s very clever players like Ernie Gygax and Rob Kunst figured out a lot of the same combos that my players are discovering and utilized them to their utmost. It could be argued that some of these combinations are game breaking. Gary decided in AD&D he was going to head off some of the ways that players could “abuse” a spell or a magic item. He created rules like the “potion miscibility table” which discourages players from doing things like stacking the effects of several potions by making it dangerous to have more than one potion in effect at a time.

If you’ve never DM’ed an OD&D game where PC’s were hitting mid teen levels and higher, it can be shocking to have a party drop a 15HD monster in just a few rounds. I personally didn’t understand what seemed like somewhat arbitrary or strangely specific restrictions on how a spell could be used in the AD&D spell descriptions until my players started asking questions that those restrictions covered and taking advantage of the vague and non-specific spell descriptions that could be interpreted in ways that made them amazingly powerful.

One thought on “A Theory About Spell Descriptions in AD&D

  1. Pingback: Why Do I Love Swords & Wizardry? – Grumpy Wizard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s