Thursday, March 19, 2009

Magic and Artifacts in the Original Campaign

This became today's article due to Endymion's fine questions and examinations posted at our forums.

(Endymion): D&A is the first I've gone through (ERKAT and Stalk soon to follow) and I had some questions and comments. They all display Rob's usual fertile imagination and really bring home the uniqueness of the original campaign(s). I was startled, though, at the power of many of them -- most of these seem more like artifacts than magic items. How common were these types of things in your campaign? Did you ever encounter game balance problems? Also, many of the items seem to have random, unexpected or layered abilities. How common was it for players to actually explore and discover all aspects of these items? Reading these over almost rewrites my sense of magic in the AD&D campaign -- you look at the DMG, see all those lists of "standard" items, and you almost can't help but feel magic is assembly line stuff. Reading over these items, you almost feel as though each magic item is like a loaded gun that could blow up in our hand: you never know what these things are going to do and when they're going to do more harm than good. I like that, but it's a real alteration in my perception of AD&D magic.

(In response): I will go out on a limb here (and let Eric do so later for his items in ERKAT) and say that EGG was very impressed with my ability to create items of unique abilities and multi-layered powers and dimensions, etc. Recall that players played a lot in the campaign, some almost daily, and due to that their levels increased proportionately; and that was the way, whether right or wrong, or needed or not, that it had to progress anyway, as the rules were being play-tested at the time and this perforce meant that all of the areas in them had to be fully examined, included higher ranges of campaign play. That is not to say that we forced the issue and let folks run over the rules as then existing and as they expanded, it just happened that they did a lot of playing, and that was that.

This led to me crafting a plethora of higher-level items to challenge them in the later stages. The idea of "artifacts," is rather artificial for a division sought between mundane and named items in OD&D Supplement #3, and should be considered in light of existing fact: all magic is ultimately unique, all magic has an originator (an artificer) and can thus be named. This is the generic side of things which D&D embraced on so many levels colliding with the reality of merging with the real facts, just as spells did with those named and those generic. For who indeed created the first "light" spell, and so forth?--the extenuation of this creative thrust, so apparent to EGG, found little expression in D&D's front end design as all was coming to fruition then, and thereafter found room for expression through named items as such matter was revisited with time permitting (Aladdin's Lamp, Vance's many named spells, and sundry items named and apparent throughout folklore, legend and fantasy ultimately influencing this addition).

As for artifacts being dangerous, that is an in the box statement and again, IMO, worthy of examination: The ring of contrariness, and other cursed items, were dangerous, too. The wand of wonder could certainly be dangerous through self use, as could the deck of many things, etc. There are so many it is hard to list, but then the incorrect casting of a fireball was more lethal than any artifact I ever saw employed in the game. This gains the point, really. These things were only as dangerous as players made them. There was ample warning, ample proofs, but in the end, I will guarantee that the players "touched it," just like in that closing scene of Time Bandits ("Don't touch it. It's Evil!").

EGG's assigning of curses to these powerful items (which in reflection rarely had more depth than rapid fire guns, as these for the most part were lists of spell powers that were usable and already known to players) were meant to "balance" the power of it all--real fast work-around, and in some cases rather in keeping with his ideas, I guess, that magic was volatile in the wrong hands (other than immortals who had crafted these, or had had mortals craft these for them, etc). I found these ultimately boring, really, and rarely sought the things as a player or used that design concept as a DM or designer; and was always straining to add more dimension to regular items and thereby name as many as possible, making them truly unique, and not by virtue of their relation to the DMG's concept of "artifacts". In Tolkien, for example, we have unique swords (Glamdring, for example), but in D&D these things become generic, which was useful in many ways (i.e., campaign tweaking by DMs). I sided with the strange and unique, adding history and thus extending the adventuring factor outwards. Not that artifacts in the DMG didn't do that on some level, I just took larger strides towards making magic other than as cookie cutter repeats disguised in different trappings.

So in reality, there are 2 different design sets that manifested in the original campaign game about the same idea, EGG's and my own, and we both appreciated our conceptual ranges on different levels. In fact, EGG loved my magic and was bent on finding it en total at times (i.e., Rings of Wizardry, as noted in his UoaSoapbox article of same); and I was indeed spellbound with his ring of spell turning. But as far as artifacts go, I guess I see it much differently, and as ENS would say these days, "more organically."


Benoist said...

I have a question regarding this. Do you know how the spells in the AD&D player's handbook ended up being named after your characters? Tenser's Floating Disk, Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound, Bigby's Crushing Hand... How did these come about?

Rob Kuntz said...

Well, that would have been better asked of my departed friend; but let me summarize from what I know within our campaign and sense out based upon what I know about EGG's creative way of doing things then.

Tenser's Floating Disk. Heh. This is the easy one out of the three, as Ernie Gygax's PC was always fathoming more ways of bringing larger and larger treasure amounts out of Castle Greyhawk. We used to have some huge piles of copper and silver, which were usually left behind. Ernie actually created the spell, IIRC, for this purpose.

The hound was an extenuation of my Onyx Dog (page 57, Greyhawk Suppl. #1; then later in the DMG), as EGG's PC, Mordenkainen, acquired that from an adventure I DMed. Thus his character sheet, with the item noted upon it, acted as a stimulus in this regard. Note that he would return to this "stratagem" when gathering information for UA (i.e., Iron Bands of Bilaro, as noted in historical context in D&A).

The Bigby line of spells were never crafted by that PC in the adventures I DMed for him and thus the moniker attaches by EGG's creative attribution only.