[No-Artpunk] #15 Ship of Fate

Ship of Fate
Jonathan Becker
AD&D 1e (UA strongly discouraged, of course…)
Lvl 10 – 14
23 pages

And now we come to J.B’s entry. An infinite fount of DnD trivia, a helping hand, an angel in human guise, a tireless crusader in the war against the inappropriate use of divinity in adventure modules, today Mr. Becker strikes a blow for moderation by penning a charming little adventure where you fight two sorcerers that try to blow up the entire multiverse by draining it as a battery on an island in the middle of a multiplanar sea for characters of level 10 and above.

The premise is loosely based on the short story ‘Sailor on the Seas of Fate’ by Michael Moorcock, and proceeds along similar lines. The characters have been chosen by a mysterious captain to save the multiverse from getting drained of energy by a sibling pair of Githzerai sorcerers. Besides the premise, the adventure unfolds quite differently from the moorcock story. It’s…pretty good! Immediate kudos for making a high level adventure that does not suck.

Structurally there is much to love about the adventure. There are 4 hyper-powerful premade characters styled around the suites of playing cards, and each gets to pick 3 companions between level 4-8 to accompany him on the quest. Massive high level party. Roxxx. I think an opportunity was missed to add something like a single line of description to sex up the characters a bit but I suppose the Beckerian addage of ‘if you pay the Artpunkgeld you never get rid of the Artpunk’ can be evoked here. Either way, giving everyone 4 characters right off the bat is a power move. Very good.

The premise is a little…contrived? Premonitions of a ghostly Becker furiously laying waste the comments section be damned, I think the premise needed a bit of narrative lubricant. Two sorcerers are going to blow up the multiverse, why aren’t the gods doing anything? I know that of course the island, being at the very dead centre of the Dunkele Zee, is impervious from entry by the divine, who are too firmly embedded in the multiverse to move into this dead zone, or I can make this up, but whenever the immanent destruction of the multiverse is proposed these matters require a bit of expostulation. The objective is to burn down the building, using a type of enchanted firebrand (needed some spiffy name like The Flame Primordial or something) but unless the sorcerers are killed, they will simply extinguish the fire in the vast, living building. Because of the magic draining nature of the Planar Rift, you cannot regain spells on the island, so the challenge is to beat them in one go. The game is afoot!

We don’t get a rumor table (at this level, ridiculous, though a note on legend lore or commune could have been considered), we do get ample notes on preparation, the type of goods are aboard the Ship of Fate that sails the endless sea, the disposition of its crew, and to top it all, the Captain and his twin brother do have a fairly ample reward of 50.000 gp available for the heroes should they be successfull in saving the multiverse, which seems to be a lucrative affair for once.

This adventure is analogous to reserving a seat at to a gourmet restaurant, you arrive, it is situated in a dilapidated steel foundry, you sit down on a splintery wooden crate, keeping your facemask on to minimize exposure to the asbestos, there is no light or heating, you puzzle over the smeared menu written on the back of a torn coaster, “What the fuck do you faggots want?” asks the sooty cook, clearly drunk, you order the steak (it is the only item on the menu), he flings it onto the rusty garbage can lid you use as a plate, you take a bite and it is an absolutely excellent stake, tender, marinated in some exotic sauce, seeming to all but melt on your tongue. This adventure is structurally solid, like a fucking brick house, but it has problems with presentation. You know just by reading it that it would play probably very well.

Journey to the island. Fuck you, nothing. Island proper, brief description, city in the centre, all ruined, nothing, ONE central building HUGE. HUEG. Good description.

Ruined streets and the foundation stones of monumental buildings are all that remains to show
that this was once a great city; what remains that exist have a noticeable outward lean, as if the center
were smote by a god-hurled hammer. Vines and vegetation cling and cover the blasted walls and
fallen columns, and stunted trees split paving stones as they reach towards the sepia-colored sky. The
only movement comes from insects…winged, jewellike beetles that deliver vicious bites before scattering to the wind. The ruins cast odd shadows beneath the eternal twilight; careful observation reveals they are the shadows of the buildings as they once were, rather than the wreckage that remains.

And this.

Nearly three hundred yards long, more than 200 feet high, its impossible architecture resembles nothing more than a monumental machine mated with multiple giants of colossal stature, warped and melted by some unbearable inferno until their features run and blend with the various parts of the assembled

Map is overall good. Semi-organic passageways, pits, crumbling passageways that lead into other areas, the occasional transcendent hazard like a bottomless rift radiating Anti-magic radiation, narrow corridors, rooms with slanting floors clouded by ash. Corridors go up and over eachother, properly labyrinthine. Feels kind of nightmarish, not bad, you might actually get some use out of Locate Creature or something. Making several narrow passageways and making them harmless, then having one where you crawl through and you see bugs and filth in the tunnel and anyone just going through it gets blasted by 5d6 Rot Grub attacks deserves applause.

A promise is not followed. The longer it takes for the adventurers to penetrate their defenses, the more prepared the sorcerers will be; speed is vital! There is no mechanism for this 😦 The pressure is high because the characters have limited resources and cannot recover them, it’s do or die. That’s perfect…but then no random encounters (the adventure provides a table in the back in case you want them, but does not recommend it), but also no consequence to extensive dallying. I understand the reasoning for not throwing extra combats in there but something, some consequence for fucking around too long or getting detected would probably have been good. As written, the actual combat with the sorcerers proper is fucking great, ill get to that, but nothing you do will alert them before, which is suprising.

Encounters proper are good, in general. Becker’s favorite high level trick, throwing HUGE waves of monsters at the PCs, is in force, and he does not dissapoint. Have you ever been attacked by 96 Stirges? 36 Constrictor Snakes? 30 Troglodytes? Monster choice is overal solid…occasionally underwhelming for a multiplanar island. Apes, Troglodytes, spectres? Its the heart of the multiverse, I think an opportunity was missed to bust out some more weird monsters. Tiraphegs, Thought Stealers, Intellect Devourers, Spirit Trolls, Shoggoths from Deities & Demigods etc. etc. I get that they are supposed to be the servants of the sorcerer. There’s a whole band that barely sees any use, now you have a perfect setting, anything goes! There are a few solid choices, Ropers, Tentamorts, Needlemen, Flesh Golems. A new creature, the Red Ochre jelly, twice as fast and creating a poisonous gas when it is destroyed, is a surprisingly subtle addition.

For 36 rooms the variation is about right, with interaction on the low side but sufficient. This is no mindless grindfest. There’s a Githyanki anti-paladin with a ring of delusion that thinks its a Paladin and will act like that until it meets a mind flayer, which, conveniently, is also present and fairly friendly, tending to the multiplanar gate and content to not get fucking killed. The gate opens doorways into other worlds, which is interesting, although I suspect it will probably end up getting looted rather then used because of the implied time limit. The idea of a dimensional gateway leading to Barsoom, Venus, Boot Hill land, Gamma World land and the Abyss is interesting but I would have enjoyed more focus on how it is going to be used by the players. If it would have been possible to call creatures through it to maybe help, now that would be a high score. As written it is interesting, and the mind flayer potentially using it and only turning on the PCs if their losses have not been too great is a good addition. There’s a few suprises, not much in the way of complex encounters, but I suspect you have to sort of read between the lines and figure out that this should come organically and not forced upon the players. 3 Ropers is a pretty tough nut to crack, although these can actually be negotiated with, interesting, as is an ambush by 7 shadow demons. You are probably also juggling about 40 different powers at this level range so it might not be neccessary to tart everything up with unique effects or flashing lights. Maybe go for more combined monster groups?

There are a handful of exceptions, and they are very cool. A hallway with 10 mirrors of opposition, meaning the entire party gets fucking swarmed by their evil duplicates. Very awesome. The other big thing is the battle with the two sorcerers, which actually unfolds in a complicated fashion. There is the sister, meditating, hideously transfigured by basking in the glow of the rift, two giant floating orbs (they are 10 HD black puddings that she can unleash with a thought). Then reinforcements for 5 rounds, depending on what you cleared. Then also the brother, nearby, needing to pass a saving throw to awaken from contemplating the dimensional rift, complete with tactics, spells etc. etc. One hell of a smackdown at the end, very satisfying.

Reaching the sorcerers is potentially a bit simple, particularly if someone wants to bust out Find the Path, or even scout the passageways with Wizard Eye. Granted the 96 Stirges might be a problem to anyone trying to enter the sanctum via that route but there are plentiful fireballs available for just such an occasion. Consider adding a note or situation where the Sorcerers are alerted by such an action. Maybe a key/door situation would have been a bit too hackneyed but it feels too…straightforward? Maybe a guardian monster to prevent people from sneaking in invisibly? These aren’t really dealbreakers but they are gripes.

Treasure is minimally adorned (but adorned), meticulously level appropriate gp and countless gemstones, in voluminous amounts. At this point I think fucking around with your fragile pots and pans is probably a bit overkill as it all goes in the bag of holding, a rare ring of three wishes concealed in a dead end location is a nice boon for thorough players. The fact you can use the firebrands as very strong one-off items during a combat shows practical game-play oriented thinking. There are actually no traps or locks in the adventure, although there are plenty of natural hazards. The power of the rift is sufficiently alluring that characters might decide to tap its power, and must surely be destroyed thereby.

It ends on a high note, which is important, always land the ending, and I think structurally it surpasses previous year’s Hell’s Own Temple, although that one has it beat atmospherically. I am convinced this thing A) works and B) woud be fun. Here are my main gripes with what is otherwise a perfectly good adventure in a level range where most people would quickly blunder hopelessly.

1. It can use a bit of sexing up, description and adornment and sensual touches of ne touche pas, although the environment is cool. More of this plzzzz.

Voices echo from walls as parties enter this area (“why do you invade me?” “what have I done to deserve
this?” “do not force me to destroy you!” “turn back now or suffer eternal torment”). The voices echo in
multiple languages (Common, elven, dwarven, etc.).

2. It is a bit straightforward as in, go in the hole, kill the wizards, go out, what you see is what you get. No backtracking, no searching, no further clues. Might be a feature for some.

3. It does not take steps to apply the pressure that it warns the players it is going to apply. Having the sorcerers gradually become aware of the players, forcing them to either make haste or create some sort of distraction, would have been cool. Organization in general is something I would like to see more of, particularly in a high level adventure.

Judging from my recent stint in Dream House of the Nether Prince, this is probably cool as hell to play. Well done Becker, and a serious contender for inclusion in Volume 2.

35 thoughts on “[No-Artpunk] #15 Ship of Fate

  1. Nice to see a continued dedication to high-level AD&D. My own high-level stuff wouldn’t read as an actual adventure because it never makes it past the outline stage (even when I run it) – I’ll have a couple of detailed NPC write-ups and a couple pages describing the situation & likely course of events & possible set-pieces but I never get as far as drawing formal to-scale maps, much less writing up room descriptions, because the PCs have so many options & everything moves do quickly that it’s pretty much impossible to keep up. I can barely even conceive of the amount of work that would be needed to turn one of these into something comprehensible and useful to someone other than me (at least without turning it into a lame railroad). So anybody who’s willing to take on that challenge gets big respect from me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A very kind review, O Prince. Thank you.

    A point of clarification: the promised reward is 50,000 g.p. for EACH of the four heroes (with sundry rewards to be given to the companion characters). Total treasure haul clocks in right around 1,000,000 g.p., sufficient to incentivize such a death trap.

    Now…onto the gripes!

    RE Tarting up the dungeon

    While I definitely endeavored to take this year’s contest more seriously (i.e. actually beginning the writing prior to a week before deadline) time still slipped away from me. For the most part, this is all “first draft” stuff, and I was trying to work within the page limit constraints while still making the font legible enough that a printout of the thing could be easily used at table. Given a bit more time I could have refined the descriptives and probably would have included a full list of monster stats in the appendix, so as to preclude the need to search through monster manuals. Ah, well.

    [however, it could also just be that I’m not the professional module cobbler and haven’t developed a knack for evocative prose, etc. Many of the prior entries reviewed have lovely scene paint that puts my crude efforts to shame…and I’m okay with that, if a little sniffly]

    Generally, I prefer more utilitarian notes for an adventure and then “sex it up” with my own DM panache. I do, however, concede that more could have been done.

    RE Straightforwardness

    This was indeed much the point: dungeon crawls are welcome escapes from long-term campaign hijinx, and high level adventurers need vacations, too. My objective was to make something that would challenge such characters, not nerf their abilities, but provide suitable reward and consummate risk.

    Michael Moorcock’s Elric is the best model for high level D&D adventures, and his simple search-and-destroy adventure (“Sailor on the Sea of Fate”) was an adequate jumping off point. In addition to the premise, many of the encounters in the adventure (including the red ochre jellies, carnivorous apes, constrictor snakes, etc.) are pulled directly from this story…though in sufficient numbers to challenge the party. Other touches came from central casting of high level weirdness (mind flayers, ropers, etc.) but, for the most part, I steered clear of the high psionic critters, mainly as to not overly complicate the thing (my play-testers are wholly unschooled in psionics…as are many young AD&D players these days…and I felt veering too heavily into such territory would simply detract from the experience). The thing is a GAUNTLET…one with multiple avenues, to be sure, but because of the disorienting nature of the layout and sheer onslaught of encounters backtracking and retracing *does* (in practice) occur.

    [for example, my play-testers could not, initially, decide which entrance to use, and so decided to split the party…plenty of hearty adventurers, right? Well, after being barraged by needlemen, they beat a hasty retreat and decided to catch up with the other party members. Eight encounters in, the group still hadn’t managed to locate the central chamber]

    RE Lack of pressure (time and otherwise)

    Originally, I did want to make the adventure more time sensitive. However, my ideas for doing so (TLDR: gradual sapping of life force, and/or magic from the PCs) was A) too complicated, and B) too punitive.

    The adventure’s challenge is a resource management one: you have many characters, many spells, many potions, etc…can you preserve your force long enough (and strong enough) to do the final deed at the end? It’s tough: pawns must be sacrificed to preserve the more important pieces. The mirror hall saw the death of the 12th level fighter…however, while she was brought back to life with a raise dead, the party had but one heal spell to return her to fighting ability. At what point do you lose so much that you must abandon the quest? At what point does victory become pyrrhic?

    Some minor cursing (ability/hit point loss, or magical diminishment) probably wouldn’t be *too* unbalancing or game wrecking, and given more time I might have found a slick way to implement such a mechanic. Alas, the rest of my life intruded! I am #sad.

    The final battle (and the sorcerers’ ability to call reinforcements) was my (humbled) attempt at giving the PCs a bennie/penalty for pre-climax play (defeat the earlier monsters and you don’t have them charging the battle every round). Sure, more could have been done, but a simple “guards & wards” spell wasn’t going to cut it. Maybe glyphs? I don’t know…in the end, the psychologic impact (of being told to “hurry”) was enough to apply pressure.

    Last Thing(s)

    That people balk at writing high level adventures is a bit of a head-scratcher to me: MANY of the monsters found in the MM are clearly inappropriate for PCs of lesser level, as are many of the DMG’s “standard” magic items. As part of Dungeons & Dragons, they deserve to be explored/used…and this is my main incentive for returning to this level range of adventure design.

    I included the pre-gens for the specific reason that many campaigns don’t have access to these types of characters…and I wrote Ship of Fate to be played. My own players (whose characters range in the 4th to 6th demographic currently) had a blast playing these “beefy” dudes in a one-off and exploring the possibilities of high level play. ALL are based on actual characters that have seen play in my past campaigns, and it would have been easy to write a couple sentences describing each’s personality or history. However, too often (I feel) that kind of description is used as a license for play-acting, detracting from the play at the table. Let players make the characters what they will. Hell, did Fonkin Hoddypeak need liner notes?

    For tables running Ship of Fate for more than four players (and who all want to play “heroes” rather than “companions”) I suggest grabbing one of the pre-gens found in the back of G1-3. However, the number of companions available should be sharply reduced in such cases:

    5-6 PCs: two companions (NPCs) each
    7+ PCs: one companion (NPC) each

    Thanks again! This was fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hope it was helpful and more importantly fun, although it is probable at this stage you have a very definite idea of what a good adventure looks like and your frame of reference w.r.t. old stuff is probably stronger. I hope to contribute with well-formed instinct, repeated exposure to countless OSR material and whatever magic powers I have gained from the beans I purchased from a wandering tribe of gypsies.

      >Sexing it up
      The names were very good, I probably should have commented. I thought a single sentence would have made it even stronger and there is a strong atmospheric component to the adventure so it seemed appropriate.

      The designer in me finds a mere addage without follow up to be unsatisfying, though I am glad that your kids respect your GM-fu enough to know that such an addage is usually backed up, and thus are sped on.

      I like the magic draining or cursing idea in lieu of encounters, alternatively, the Sorcerers could simply become more prepared, and this could be telegraphed via these sorts of telepathic messages, a group of monsters elsewhere in the dungeon could start roaming (start rolling random encounters) more retainers could be summoned or even moved etc. etc.

      Your point about the reinforcements would actually reward players that take their time and move circuitously, I am not sure about it.

      > Gauntlet + Straightforwardness

      I think that’s a good way of looking at it. Even without bells and whistles it looks pretty solid, though I am not convinced some additions could not have made it even more solid. Still, a good job, and well done for breathing some life into high level play.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha! I quite liked the names myself. Thanks!

        This contest was both immensely helpful AND fun. It actually makes me want to cobble MORE adventures (which I really don’t have time for), incorporating feedback here and elsewhere (that is, from other contestants submissions). Perhaps my 3rd at bat will yield a home run?
        ; )


  3. You might make use of something like the notoriety mechanic in WGR6 City of Skulls here: the more time you take, and more obvious your presence, the more points you gain; when you reach certain point counts, hit squads of summoned monsters seek you out. Sounds like JB has created another brutal combat module, a worthy achievement. Did anyone play Hell’s Own Temple? I think Settembrini was pondering it.
    Some hell hound guards to (possibly) detect invisible opponents?


    1. Invisibility isn’t nearly the “game breaker” that might be assumed. Please see the DMG on the subject (pages 59-60). Many of the creatures in the adventure have a chance to detect invisibility even without magic or enhanced senses (ropers: 40%, githyanki: 20-25%, mind flayer: 10%, githzerai: 55%-75%). And trying to coordinate more than one invisible individual at once, is pretty difficult…do you send the lone thief deep into the dungeon solo? In THIS meat grinder? Vaya con Dios, amigo.

      Should probably go without saying that traps don’t generally care about invisibility. Neither does getting lost.
      ; )


      1. For groups I’ve refereed, it is more about concealing the magic-users so they can land some hefty blows with their
        initial spells. (And sometimes that might be a hold monster on a mighty foe without magic resistance, or haste on the party warriors.)


      2. Yes, that’s one of the better uses of invisibility. In my son’s campaign, I’ve used invisibility (both spell and ring) to pretty much wreck the Caves of Chaos (adapted to 1E). But those tricks work less well at high levels, where monsters can take a punch…and punch back!…before characters can make their (invisible) escape.

        Invisible dungeon crawlers still need light sources, which prevent surprise and limit scouting opportunities depending on the environment. “Hiding” an invisible support caster (like a cleric or “buffing” wizard) is useful for preventing targeting, assuming you have enough offense with the rest of the party, and I consider that a valid, practical tactic. Of course, looking for that invisible flask of oil, holy water vial, or needed potion in an invisible backpack full of invisible objects is going to be a nigh-impossible task, but characters who make proper preparations should be rewarded for their diligence and forethought.

        Sill not a game-breaker. And I pity the invisible wizard that blunders into a den of ropers.

        RE Haste

        Unnatural aging and system shock rolls generally curb overuse of this tactic in AD&D.


      3. Aging 1 year for haste is by the book, and a sufficient deterrent against frequent use for me. There will be times in your module where the situation is sufficiently perilous. I would not want the consequences to be different from consuming a potion of speed, the effects and (key point) the duration are similar.
        Some spells specifically call for a system shock roll (e.g. polymorph other), others state it is not required (e.g. polymorph self) whilst there is a third category where it is not mentioned (which includes haste). I rule no system shock for the last. unless the effects are clearly way beyond what the body could normally take. If there was a magic item that hasted the user for a week, now I am calling for a system shock at the end of that week.
        When you reach higher levels, these table rulings tend to become more important. So you might not want to deploy a couple of hell hound guards, I might.


      4. “Aging” is one of the listed reasons for requiring a system shock roll, per the PHB, p.12 (the first one listed, actually). Since a haste spell causes unnatural aging (i.e. aging caused by application of magical effect), it thus requires a system shock roll. Ain’t no “table rule.”

        For a potion of speed, it is EXPLICIT in the text (DMG, p.127) that “use of a speed potion ages the individual by 1 year.” It would also require a system shock roll.

        However, I would probably NOT attribute aging to any other magical device, despite similar effects (a scroll with a haste spell, or boots of speed, for example), because per DMG p.13:

        “Reading one of the above spells from a scroll (or using the power from a ring or device) does not cause unnatural aging, but placing such a spell upon the scroll in the first place will do so!”

        [fortuitously, boots of speed don’t grant extra attacks]


      5. I respectfully disagree on both points.
        (i) For me, the aging you refer to in the PHB description of Constitution concerns attacks from a Ghost, etc, not the
        side effects of casting certain spells. using certain items. Aging is not qualified with “(including spells with aging side effects)”, unlike petrification which is qualified “(including stone to flesh)”. Nor is what you say backed up by the spell/ magic item descriptions e.g. polymorph other, polymorph self, stone to flesh do mention system shock, whereas haste, limited wish, potion of speed do not.
        On the other hand, I am not saying your reading is wrong, just that other interpretations are possible. Maybe we should be careful about very literal translations, as the Constitution section (in the printing I have) talks about “affecting the character’s hit dice”, when “affects the character’s hit points” was clearly meant. (It is very difficult to remove every typo from a technical work of any length, this is no criticism of 1E.)

        (ii) There is a distinction between the “aging the caster spells” (e.g. alter reality, gate) compared to the “aging the
        the recipient/drinker” magic (e.g. haste, potion of speed). In the latter case you age, no matter how the magic was done (although I would not do this for a haste negating a slow).

        I am a firm believer in the referee applying (what they believe) to be common sense. Under your ruling, haste is getting too dangerous to use: say you have 8 characters with 16 CON (which is towards the top end of expectations) about to
        be hasted, there is about a one third chance one or more of them is going to expire. I judge one year of aging to be enough of a deterrent for frequent use; in a campaign with a sensible passage of time (not one of these levels 1 to 20 in one year Pathfinder abominations), 15 or more years of unnatural aging will push you to ability penalties (and I do apply them).

        I don’t really enjoy these rules discussions very much, so you will forgive if I bow out at this point.


      6. Since you have decided to bow out of the discussion, I will take the final word.

        I find your argument disingenuous if not spurious. I own both a first printing of the PHB and a sixth printing (with the Easley cover) and the language in both, with regard to Constitution are identical. I find no typos in the description of how CON’s “hit point adjustment” applies to a creature’s hit dice; rather it is clear and explicit:

        “Hit point adjustment indicates a subtraction from or addition to each hit die of the character. (Hit dice are explained fully under the appropriate heading). Note that subtraction can never reduce any hit die below 1, i.e. if a die is rolled and a 1 comes up, or if a 2 is rolled and the penalty due to constitution is -2, the die is read as 1 (hit point) regardless of subtractions.”

        Clearly a hit die is being considered as an actual die, with the result of the die roll being the number of hit points acquired and (possibly) adjusted subsequently by a character’s Hit Point Adjustment, clearly labeled and explained.

        Likewise with System Shock Survival; this number shows

        “…the percentage chance the character has of surviving the following forms of magical attacks (or SIMPLE APPLICATION OF THE MAGIC): aging, petrification (including flesh to stone spell), polymorph any object, polymorph others.”

        [EMPHASIS added by me]

        The note is clear that stipulation does not only apply to magical attacks but ALSO the “simple application of the magic.” Not all of these affects are attacks, but they are all transformations of a magical nature. Natural aging does not incur a system shock roll, only magical aging.

        That the haste spell (or the wish spell or the gate spell, etc.) does not mention system shock does not mean that their casters or recipients are not subject to system shock. Neither do these spells mention their unnatural aging effects, which (so far as I can tell) was only added in the later published DMG, replacing and modifying the earlier text. You state that the exclusion of any reference to system shock is evidence that the rule must not apply…and yet the text of the polymorph any object spell does not mention system shock, nor the spell flesh to stone (system shock only mentioned with regard to stone to flesh, not the spell’s inverse). Regardless, failure to mention a game mechanic in a spell description does not necessitate exclusion of the mechanic!

        The entry for ghost in the Monster Manual (the clear example of a magical aging ATTACK) mentions nothing of system shock; obviously it would be an error to infer the mechanic doesn’t apply.

        Finally, there is ZERO distinction between “aging the caster spells” and “aging the recipient/drinker magic.” All are listed together on the same table (p.13 of the DMG) with priority based on nothing but alphabetical order (Casting preceding Imbibing preceding Under). The magical affects listed are IN ADDITION to creatures that “cause unnatural aging” but they are all of the same type, i.e. magic causing a “loss of life span.” To me, it is exactly this radical change to a person’s physiology that provides the justification for requiring a system shock roll.

        S.W. you write:

        “I am a firm believer in the referee applying (what they believe) to be common sense. Under your ruling, haste is getting too dangerous to use: say you have 8 characters with 16 CON (which is towards the top end of expectations) about to be hasted, there is about a one third chance one or more of them is going to expire. I judge one year of aging to be enough of a deterrent for frequent use…”

        Haste IS a dangerous spell to use…it is also a VERY POWERFUL spell to use. For the price of a 3rd level spell, you gift a number of party members with the means to DOUBLE their attack rate for a minimum of eight rounds. Let’s say the party is 5th level and includes five melee types each wielding magic weapons in the +1 or +2 range, two or three of which receive attack and damage bonuses for strength. Let’s call it average damage of 4.5 (long sword or footman’s mace) +1.5 (magic) for 6 points per person with a bonus of 6 points of bonus strength damage for ALL “strong dude” party members. With haste, you are creating a potential extra damage amount of 288 points (6x5x8 = 240 + 6×8 = 48) over eight rounds of combat. How much does that 5th level lightning bolt average? 17.5 damage? Assuming the saving throw is failed?

        And that is for a MINIMUM use of the spell: a high level caster can affect MANY more than five characters for MANY more than eight rounds, doubling their attack rate (and fighter types start getting multiple attacks at 7th level)…and, of course, higher level characters have access to more powerful magic weapons. All for a 3rd level spell.

        Haste is one of the most powerful spells in the game. To balance its use requires making it a RISK, each and every time it is cast, to ensure that it is not used for every otyugh and manticore the party faces. High risk, high reward…THAT is what D&D is all about.

        Accept no substitutes.
        ; )


      7. Oh, yeah: and 1 year of aging by itself is NO deterrent to a dwarf, elf, half-elf, or gnome, and little deterrent to halflings.


  4. That opening cracked me up. But this actually sounds like a really good demonstration of what level 10+ characters should be dealing with and it doesn’t even misuse the word god. I’m definitely running it when I get the chance, I bet I’ll learn a thing or two.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. High level play should be like treasured gatherings with family and decades old friends at funeral weekends where the whole of typical conversation is jettisoned, and the gang cracks open the good stuff to reach deep.

    This is not something to be canned for export because high level play might better be described as long term play, with the same people, which breeds familiarity. To keep adventure fresh with a long time familiar crowd you have to go strange, and that strange is rooted in what came before which can be assumed.

    High level play which is not long term play is better named high numbers play.


    1. I think your position on longterm play is an extension of your position on DnD in general as an intensely portable experience which cannot truly be conveyed beyond a set of core principles.

      High level play which is not long term play is still massively different from low level play because of the increase in complexity. Surviving low level play is about mastering a set of axioms and applying them to a variety of situations, with the occasional mathematical bump in the form of a one-use item throwing everyone for a loop. Death comes swiftly, resources are scarce and must be deployed at the right time.

      High level play is completely different. Options and resources are immense and must be integrated into a routine. Everyone has magic items up the wazzoo, allowing them to potentially deal with or bypass almost any obstacle. Combine this with vastly increased potential for retreat, the ability to recover even from death, increased intelligence gathering capability…And then you imagine how an adventure can still challenge you by dealing with many of these capabilities

      We played through Anthony Huso’s Dream house of the Nether Prince, a mad assault on Orcus’s Fortress on the 1st layer of the Abyss. This was not a place where one timidly skulked about, listening at doors and waiting in the shadows for a patrol of orcs to pass by. This was an absolute gauntlet. We had cast Contact Outer Plane before we came, somewhat narrowing down our options. I had a ring of regeneration and a staff of power (this was all but exhausted by the end), but there was no time to catch my breath. Hordes of polar worms assailed us as we broke into the palace through the caverns below, and I left the Simulacrum I had made of the fighting man behind to hold them off. We levitated over fields of lemures, and put to the sword Orcus’s undying concubines, only to have them rise from the dead. The fighter fended off hordes of ghouls with a decanter of endless water while we broke open the fortified door with a chime of opening, weeping as we fled. We confronted the spirits of long imprisoned champions of good, the albino succubus that was Orcus’s head ritualist and by a combination of interrogation and divination, we barely made it into the creature’s throne room. In the end a scroll of Wish was employed to ensure we could get past Orcus and a recently gated Demogorgon, locked in deathly combat. Absolute blast, totally different from any low level game.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Play reports are unpersuasive, yours, mine, anyone’s. High level play reports make me think of an senescent podgy Bill Gates in the Alien Power Loader, “I is a billionaire” click … whirrr … chugga chugga.

      Have the players really mastered low level play? which is reality, the most difficult environment to recreate. Would your high level players be slaughtered if they had to play low level characters in an mundane environment where my low level players can survive. Low level characters have to use straightforward sentences to describe exactly what they want to do and don’t have a dozen magical buttplugs with high numbers to duel with where crazy dreamlike effects jerk reality around. With the complexity of live gaming comes random pushing of buttons, and DMs do their best to keep things awesome.

      My experience of high level AD&D is that of Tolkien’s instinctive notion of power demonstrated in the impasse between Gandalf and the Moria Balrog . It becomes easier to adjudicate conflict at higher level with less and less recourse to complex tables if you consolidate lvl and abilities into a notion of power. Powerful beings KNOW to a large degree who is dominant or equal. The idea of powerful beings chancing their arms with wildly random tactics with chaotic results is just not high lvl, high int behaviour. They would not enter into conflict. Confer thermonuclear strategy, ultra ultra cautious as long as the universal culture has a very high standard of intelligence, [I’ve been reading Kahn OTW 1960 given what is going on, and by the way we are on a severe intelligence decline which peaked 1890-1910]

      I am, of course, not saying you didn’t have a great time, I have no doubt you did, but I know that I would not have. And if the purpose of discussing AD&D online is to promote our own understanding and love of gaming as we experienced it, we would be best delineating styles and these community of styles of AD&D would need to be extremely dismissive of parasitic junk.


      1. To be clear Kahn says nothing about declining Intelligence, that’s my personal opinion having read more than any of you lot.


      2. These lines are overintellectualized on the one hand but stem from a fundamental difference in our views on the game on the other. Is AD&D a set of rules and procedures meant to simulate a virtual reality, or is the reality an anchor and narrative sheath for the fantasy adventure game? The elements are always essential but their priority is not. In general I find the yield of discussions on what is or is not realistic on the enjoyability of the game to be somewhere around .5. I often wonder what it would be like to play in your game, if you ran one. Would it be utterly alien?

        Yes low level play is less complex because it is easier to assess risk and there are, as you say, less mathematical cudgels to influence the combat on the other hand. Clever use of terrain or geometry, ambushes, henchmen, use of oil, use of fire, this is all present. But these options do not dissapear with the increase of ultramundane resources, they are multiplied. From the perspective of what is enjoyable as a game, this progression makes sense. I see some merit in abstracting all of the myriad mystical and mundane defences back into a few core concepts as one approaches the very zenith of power, as this follows the progression of complex strategy games, where the largest variety in play is somewhere in the middle and as one gets to the top the number of viable options is actually much more limited then it at first appears. There is no doubt a solution available that fits some notion of versimilitude on the one hand but keeps the game enjoyable.

        R.e. Intelligent Powerful beings do not initiate conflict. They should not initialize it lightly to be sure, and the portrayal of high level wizards as isolationists devoted to slowly building their power makes intuitive sense. But consider they only reached these levels by being able to capitalize on a possible advantage, and if neccessary, taking personal risks to achieve them. So you get more wars via proxies and catspaws and more indirect meddling. Conversely, you get attempts to conceal one’s power, hide one’s capability. The arms race begins. And that would cover wizards. There is certainly a precedent for highly capable killers that act in foolish headstrong manner, or that are eager to test their strength against other, renowned warriors and getting themselves killed in that fashion.

        Delineation is what this contest is all about, and I consider the problem as one of degrees of accuracy. There are going to be differences in interpretation of what is or is not proper D&D but I am confident this contest approaches whatever platonic ideal of it exists somewhere in phase space a hell of a lot closer then the current standard, and that is the objective of the exercise. I think we discussed it before: The problem with a conceptualization of AD&D as an ultra-personal experience between players and GM is that there is little common ground between different GMs for discussion. Whether or not it is accurate or valid is not relevant. If a common ground cannot be found it cannot be transferred.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. “This is not something to be canned for export” If I ever end up in a situation where my high level players need a proper challenge, I hope to have at least a few great examples that I can follow/copy/rip off even if they can’t be imported outright.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. For those that might be interested, having searched on Dragonsfoot, it appears they had almost the exact same debate about the haste spell around 2004-5, although to their credit they managed to avoid accusing anyone of being deceitful. Given who contributed, I am happy to accept the intention was for recipients of the spell to make a shock system roll, This need not include the caster, and might only be very high constitution fighters.
    The first column on p.12 of the PHB printing I have was the one I was quoting from: (bold) Constitution paragraph, second sentence begins “Since constitution affects the character’s hit dice…”; hit points was meant.


    1. My apologies: both for offending and for implying purposeful deceit. “Ingenious” and “spurious” were too harsh of terms and unnecessary barbs. Mea culpa.

      I appreciate you taking the time to research the forum discussions on the subject, something I couldn’t be bothered to do. Hopefully, the arguments presented on Dragonsfoot uphold your model, or enough so that you feel satisfied in your approach…well, in the end, “satisfaction” in game play is pretty much what we’re aiming for, right? Have at it.

      For my own part…well, some context. I’ve only come back to the “AD&D fold” in the last three years: as of October 17th, 2019, actually. It’s not like I’ve been running games with this level of minutia for 40 years. Even in my youth (I was a hardcore RAW AD&D player into my mid-teens) I don’t remember even being aware of these draconian system shock rules…mainly because we never needed them! We DID use the unnatural aging rules, but “haste” was not a spell that hit the table…ever (direct damage spells like lightning and fireball being deemed far more useful). Characters were brought back to life with (ring) wishes or with NPC help. Gates were NOT opened. No illusionist ever got past 12th level. Etc.

      Likewise, polymorph was the (known) main trigger of system shock but, again, saw little use because it wasn’t considered practical (personality change). And who cares if a character fails to survive flesh-to-stone…they’re already stone, and dead for most intents and purpose.

      So the issue never came up. However, it’s 40 years later. Research has been done. Players (being players) have found ways to break systems. One Dragonsfoot article I *did* read was an actual play report of someone running the original tournament version of S4 (Tsojcanth) and the party just WRECKING the thing with liberal use of the haste spell.

      Gygax’s rules (the aging, the system shock) anticipates these issues…presumably because of actual play experience…and helps dial back the game breaking aspects. And that’s great! In B/X it’s a lesser issue because “doubling attacks” generally means a maximum of TWO (there are no multiple attacks in “straight B/X” play). In OD&D it’s a NON-issue because haste and slow affect movement speed ONLY (assuming you default to the Chainmail mechanics…the actual OD&D book describes nothing but range and duration! However, potions of speed are also limited to movement).

      But in AD&D such checks and balances become necessary. Without them, the game runs the risk of becoming less challenging for crafty players. Personally, I find that to be undesirable.


      1. Both our views had their supporters, but most of the heavyweights (e.g. Stuart Marshall) were on your side. And it was a deliberate attempt (endorsed by Gygax) to curb the spell. I just wish the text had been clearer on the point, and sentences added to spell descriptions/cross references made as necessary. I’m sure everyone at the Alehouse knew all about it, others less so.
        I am actually warming to your interpretation, particularly if the magic-user is casting it on just a high constitution dwarven fighter and human ranger. It is risky, but potentially has a big pay off. My only concern is that it may be a further encouragement to dice fudging at character creation. In my youth there were a suspicious number of human warriors with 18/00 strength; I wouldn’t want 18 constitutions to start appearing all the time.
        I’m not sure how you survive G3 without the haste spell. In 2E, stoneskin became another spell that was almost too useful, although in that case I insisted on price of the expensive component (diamond dust) being paid.
        One view that is surely uncontroversial is that AD+D does a better job of supporting high level play than B/X.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll admit to having zero experience with stoneskin. While we made use of the UA back in the day (’85-’90) the only guy who regularly played magic-users preferred the more typical PHB spells (with the notable exception of “chain lightning;” how can you not love that one?). These days, I no longer allow UA rules at the table with the exception of single-class demihumans receiving a +2 bonus to max level restriction (only in classes they could normally multi-class).

        RE G3:

        Carving one’s way through the giant series is a pretty tall order; some degree of stealth is generally the accepted approach, though I can imagine a scenario where negotiation and/or trickery could allow sneakier PCs into the giants’ inner circle. The one time I ran a party who took the full frontal attack with any degree of success featured a high level fighter who possessed Blackrazor, a weapon that allows its user to apply haste to himself. Once his effective level was increased to the max effective level (i.e. after downing his first giant) that 4/round attack rate allowed for some real slaying power. Unfortunately, the rest of the party wasn’t nearly as bullet-proof, and I believe the last three party members ended up trapped on the 2nd level in an Ottiluke’s Resilient Sphere, surrounded by enemies.

        Come to think of it, that might have been G1 (I’m trying to remember back 32 years). I *do* know it was the end of that particular campaign.
        ; )


  7. FWIW my own compromise on aging and system shock rolls is that aging from casting spells (Gate, Restoration, etc) doesn’t trigger them, but that aging from being the recipient of a Haste spell or Potion of Speed does. I don’t particularly like this ruling because in my experience it means that spell/item never gets used (even high-Con characters are unwilling to accept the flat 5-10% chance of instant death), but I accept (grudgingly) that it was Gary’s intent – an (over) correction for what he considered abusive overuse of the spell in the OD&D era.


    1. @ Trent:

      Your “compromise” is how the mechanic is written. Casting haste does not cause aging, only being under its effect does.


      1. Right. But a lot of people play (and I think maybe 2E AD&D officially clarified) that the aging from casting Alter Reality, Gate, Restoration, Resurrection, Limited Wish, or Wish triggers a system shock roll for the caster, while I don’t.


      2. Oh, I see…missed that first part.

        Huh. That’s interesting. My own campaign doesn’t (currently) have characters of high enough level to cast those spells (though there are NPCs who can be paid to do so), so they wouldn’t have access to that type of magic without a scroll or ring otherwise. Personally, I kind of like the effect in order to contribute to the rarity of such magic…don’t really want Gates being opened to other-dimensional realities on a regular basis!

        I think it’s worth noting that unlike Resurrection, the Raise Dead doesn’t have an adverse aging effect, making it a nice utility spell with limitations that don’t discourage use. Which is good! Resurrection, on the other hand, has the capability to instantly bring back a centuries dead hero from the time of legend at full fighting strength…in my opinion, it *should* carry a heavier price than the simpler Raise Dead spell.


      3. Restoration is really the problematic one for me, because that’s a spell that players are always very eager to pay for after having an unfortunate run-in with level-draining undead. IMO it’s burden enough to have to go to the trouble of finding a friendly level 16+ cleric and pay the very high book price (base 10K GP + 10K/level of the recipient), especially since they most likely will want multiple castings. Dropping ~half a million GP is one thing, and aging the caster 10 years is acknowledged as part of the reason for that exorbitant price. But adding on 5 system shock rolls (which, assuming the caster has an 11 Con, is close to 50% chance of blowing one) and potentially losing an NPC who is almost definitionally important (there aren’t a lot of level 16+ clerics running around my campaign world) is annoying. The players don’t care because it’s not their character, but it annoys me to potentially have a major NPC taken out by, essentially, downtime bookkeeping.

        Of course the simpler solution to all of this is probably to make Restoration a lower level spell (5th or at most 6th) with no aging penalty, but I’m hesitant to do that because it feels like a bigger change (to the extent possible I like to keep my house-rule changes on the DM side of the screen and not invalidate stuff in the PH, so that the players can rely on that book as canon/gospel).


      4. Yeah…you know, I thought it might be a Restoration thing. The 10,000 x.p. per level of character restored is exorbitant in and of itself, and for no good reason (level of PC being restored makes no nevermind to the casting), unlike Raise Dead (for example). But if one eliminates the aging, there’s no justification for the cost hike except price gouging (like what the parking attendants do on a Mariners day game in the playoffs…bastards).

        Interestingly, the original Restoration spell (from Supplement I: Greyhawk) includes this language:

        “The use of this spell will incapacitate the Cleric for 2-20 days, so non-player character Clerics cannot usually be hired to cast it. Note that its reverse will NOT cause any incapacitation.”

        This is somewhat similar to the PHB’s version of Resurrection (NOTE: the OD&D version, “Raise Dead Fully,” carries NO incapacitation), and it makes sense that an NPC would be un-desirous of casting such a spell (without a HUGE fee) when it carries such a penalty: how could the cleric minister to its congregation? Heal the local nobles? Perform the Mass? Etc. “Incapacitation” (a broad and undefined term) can mean a LOT of things, depending on the DM’s interpretation.

        I can totally see instituting a penalty like THAT (in lieu of unnatural aging)…but then you have the side effect that the patriarch might be unable to cast Restoration again prior to the expiration of the time limit. Perhaps bolster the spell to restore ALL levels lost, with a subsequent incapacitation period (and price/fee!) corresponding to the number of levels restored by use of the spell? That’s probably how I would modify the thing.

        Well…IF I were going to modify it. Fact is, the issue hasn’t yet arisen in my (new) campaign. I have had LOTS of level draining (running PCs through Ravenloft, even with half-strength vampires, tends to do this), but the treasure/x.p. has been enough to restore the characters “naturally,” without the need to seek out 16th level patriarchs. It might be a different story if the characters had been reduced from 14th level to 9th or or something (thus justifying the insane costs and effects).

        Just guessing, of course, but this might have been Gygax’s intended purpose: to discourage “easy” recovery via spell, and force players to (instead) keep adventuring, thereby prolonging the campaign experience. That’s seems to be the net effect of most of Gary’s draconian mechanics.
        ; )

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Yeah, when a 7th level character gets drained to 5th you just shrug and get busy earning back those levels, but when a 14th level character gets drained to 10th, likely wiping out a couple years (or more) of play, dropping a few hundred thousand GP to get at least some of those levels back is a lot more attractive, and knowing that the NPC casting the spell is being aged (and possibly killed by system shock) is of no concern at all – except for the possibility if you were planning to buy multiple castings that they might drop dead before they complete all of them.

      I realize that Gary preferred that level-drained characters earn levels back through play and didn’t really want this spell to be used, which is why it’s so high level and has such heavy side effects even in OD&D (sort of like Identify – people complain all the time about how onerous and mostly-useless the spell is, missing the point that it’s that way on purpose to show players that it’s not a good option and that trial & error experimentation is almost always the better way; by creating these difficult/inefficient spells that provide shortcuts the players want he was effectively putting a blocker on PCs being able to research more efficient and effective versions – Enchant an Item is another one) but when the players know the spell is out there – especially high level (well, formerly high level) ones who have a ton of cash and resources and know how long it will take to earn those levels back through play – they’re going to want it, especially when they’re not personally suffering the side effects (other than the big money drain).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m very sympathetic to the arguments you have presented for restoration (whilst accepting context and intent). Perhaps there might be a version that has a much longer casting time than three rounds, say three hours, and the recipient must prepare with special purifying steam baths, wear an expensive robe, etc. The longer version might have no caster penalties, but the whole costs a fortune, justifying the extortionate price tag.
        Having said I don’t like these rules discussions, I seem to be doing nothing else.


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