Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Oe Read Through: Part 3 -- D&D Volume II: Monsters & Treasure

Page numbers reference the Premium editions unless otherwise noted.

What is this?

I am reading my way through original Dungeons & Dragons, having started with the 1972 printing (2nd edition) of Chainmail, and specifically the fantasy chapter therein. I have no agenda or desire to be thorough; I'm literally just commenting on things I find interesting; hopefully you will find them interesting too.

See-in-the-Dark Vision

It's not infravision. That comes later with AD&D I believe. It is just simply the ability to see in the dark and it has nothing to do with your 'race.' (Again, no such word or concept in Oe, there are only types and classes.) Gygax and Arneson say "it is generally true that any monster or man can see in total darkness as far as the dungeons are concerned except player characters" (5). Suck it.

Tophats and Monocles!

"WRAITHS: These monsters are simply high-class Wights..." (9).

Dragon Colors and Subduing Them

As I mentioned in the Chainmail read-through, Gygax already had the five colors of dragons worked out early on. But he seems to have been toying with a sixth. In Chainmail the sixth type is purple/mottled. Here it is gold.

There's a whole subgame in Oe about subduing dragons. I find this interesting in that it reminds us that a) many legends and tales focus on securing an agreement with a monster using leverage. "If I suffer thee to live, thou shalt not cross the river Brandon for 100 years, nor despoil the crops or harry the villagers beyond!"

Here's the text.

"Subduing Dragons: Any attack may be to subdue rather than to kill, but this in- tent must be announced before melee begins. When intent to subdue is announced, hits scored upon the Dragon are counted as subduing rather than killing points. Each round of melee the number of points scored in hits is ratioed over the total number the Dragon has (hit point total), the hits obtained being stated as a percentile of the total possible, i.e. 12%, 67%, etc. The percentile dice are then rolled to determine if the Dragon has been subdued. A roll equal to or less than the percentage of hits already obtained means the Dragon is subdued" (12).

Is this where the idea of "subdual" damage is born? I never really understood that word until now. LOL. I always wondered what it meant and somehow, my kid brain, read it as underneath (sub) the dual (which I imagined to be some part of the brain). That makes no sense, I know, but I was a kid and later I just shrugged it off as a Gygax thing. Now I get it. Subdual is Gary's word for damage to subdue. How dumb was I not to get that before?

The rules then go on to state a lot of stuff about how many people can attempt to subdue a dragon, what a subdued dragon is worth, and how long it remains subdued. That, and an example, takes up most of a page.

A friend of mine noted that he found it curious dragons were somewhat rarely used in D&D modules, given that they are in the name. (Plenty of dungeons, but not as many dragons.) I think he's largely correct. However, in the Wilderness Wandering Monster tables, a dragon is going to come around about 12% of the time (higher in some terrains).


The original edition contained a whole page on balrogs that got excised after the Tolkien estate warned TSR off of their intellectual property. There's a lot of stuff on that page. Is it really interesting? Nope. Not to me anyway. It's about how magic works against a balrog, or doesn't; how the balrog fits into the evil chain of command; all the special abilities of a balrog; etc.

Of note, I suppose, is this continuing notion that PCs can be anything. "Players wishing to begin as a Balrog would have to start as let us say a 'young one'" (8 of the original printing).

Humorous Minotaurs

Gary, for me, is at his best when he is more lighthearted. I enjoyed this bit of text. "Minotaurs: The Minotaur is classically a bull-headed man (and all of us who have debated rules are well acquainted with such)" (15).

Martian Monsters/Collaborative Monsters

References are occasionally made to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom (Mars), as a setting for D&D. I dig that some nod was made early on to sword & planet fiction. (Note his reference to John Carter of Mars stories in the intro to Volume 1.) Here is one such reference, with an interesting note attached from this volume.

"Large Insects or Animals: This category includes giant ants and prehistoric monsters. Armor Class can be anything from 8 to 2. Hit Dice should range from 2 to anywhere near 20, let us say, for a Tyrannosaurus rex. Also included in this group are the optionally usable "Martian" animals such as Apts, Banths, Thoats, etc. If the referee is not personally familiar with the various monsters included in this category, the participants of the campaign can be polled to decide all characteristics" (20).

It's really cool to see Gygax encouraging GMs to source the table.

Treasure: Magic Swords

First of all let's note that treasure is included with monsters, not in the third book. So these books don't quite have the now-traditional break-down of PHB, MM, GM. That's kind of interesting in that when you mark one book as "for" the GM, it kind of leaves the MM on its own as a book for anyone, player or GM. Of course that's just an inference. Players were discouraged from reading the MM (not that it ever worked). Here we have one book for players, and the other two for GMs.

Okay, about magic swords:

1. You take damage immediately upon touching/drawing a sword not of your alignment. Further, you are automatically controlled if it is 6 points smarter than you.

"If a character picks up a sword which is not of the same alignment as he, damage will be taken as follows: Law – Chaos: 2 Dice (2–12 points) Neutrality-Law/Chaos: 1 Die (1–6 Points).

"If a non-player character is directed to take up a sword the damage will be only one-half that stated above, for the party is not acting as a free agent. Additionally, the sword might cause the one who took it up to be freed from a spell, change alignment, or otherwise gain powers which would remove them from the service of their former master.

"In addition, if the Intelligence/Egoism of the sword (see below) is 6 or more points above that of the character who picks it up, the sword will control the person, even causing him to become aligned as the sword is, and he will immediately act accordingly" (27).

2. Here is an example of early "High Gygaxian." I feel like the first book and the monster section of the second book are largely free of this obtuse writing. But here it comes on strong ...

"Influence of Egoism in Key Situations: The referee adds the Intelligence and the Egoism of the sword (from 8–24 factors), and adds an extra 1 for every Extraordinary Ability (from 1–4 if applicable). This total (8–28) is compared to the total of the character’s Intelligence and Strength (6–36) modified by a variable based upon the physical state of the user. If the character is fresh and relatively free from damage (less than 10% damaged) from 1–6 points are added to his total (from 7–42 then possible). If mentally and/or physically fatigued, or if damage between 10% to 50% has been sustained, from 1–4 points are deducted (from 2–35 then possible). If damage over 50% has been sustained, or the character has been under a severe mental strain from some form of magic, from 2–8 points are deducted (from 0–34 then possible)."

It goes on for at least another paragraph. I swear my brain fogs right over when I try to read this.

Damage is interesting too. A +2 or +3 sword often also counts its bonus toward damage, but only toward damage against the specific type of creature it was made to target. So your general +2 sword isn't +2 to hit and +2 to damage. It's +2 to hit, and when fighting (e.g.) lycanthropes it does +2 damage. I feel like that isn't the norm for D&D later on. I seem to recall that most magic swords get the bonus to both to-hit and damage, and if they target a specific creature (e.g. dragons), they get even more in that instance. I wonder when that came to be the norm.

Potions, Rings, Scrolls, Wands and Staves

A potion of longevity "reduces 10 game-years from the game-age of the character" (31). Was Gygax really worried that we would think the player him/herself was going to get younger?

A Potion of Dragon Control will control 1-3 dragons, but a Potion of Invulnerability only adds +2 to your defense and saves. And they are on the same page, in subsequent entries. The "balance" of items is all over the place. Despite several admonitions from Gygax about controlling magic items for balance.

Rings "only one ring may be worn each hand if the ring is to be operable by the wearer. (The referee should be careful to enforce this in order to maintain some balance in the game)" (33).

And, Three Wishes: "the wishes granted by the ring must be of limited power in order to maintain balance in the game" (33).

Trust level was pretty low in these early rules sets. The general tenor is that if you gave players an inch, they'd take a yard. And if you gave them a yard, they would want a swimming pool and a tennis court.

"All Scrolls are spells for Magic-Users, and regardless of the level of the spell they can be used by any Magic-User capable of reading them. All “Protection” spells can be used by any character who is able to read" (32).

Now that is interesting. All scrolls are spells for Magic-Users (no Cleric scrolls). And your level doesn't matter. A 1st level MU can cast an 8th level spell, from a scroll.

Does that last line mean someone who isn't a Magic-User can use a Protection scroll? And does the first line mean all scrolls contain M-U spells only or that only M-Us can use scrolls? The "for" isn't very clear.

"Wands are considered as being endowed with projectiles (or rays) of the 6th level (six dice of damage), Staves have 8th level effect. Assume Wands to have 100 charges, Staves have 200 charges" (34).

This explains the difference in saves. Also, wow, powerful much? Where's the "balance" here Gygax? I won't even reflect the Staff of Power and Staff of Wizardry here, but they are BORKEN. (That's a broken "broken.")


1 gold piece = 10 silver pieces; 1 silver piece = 5 copper pieces. So the ratio is slightly off from later editions which use 1:10 on both, right?

Ok. That's it for this book. I mean it's essentially just a list of stuff, so I'm not sure how interesting it is from a commentary standpoint. On to volume III.

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