Archive for November 20th, 2009


The Evolution of hold person

In a previous post I used hold person as an example of a spell that changed dramatically from OD&D to later versions.  The original version of hold person, as described in Men & Magic, was a very powerful charm spell that allowed the caster to compel action from his victims.

This fits in with the early pulp-influences and atmosphere of OD&D – the evil wizard or priest casting a spell and then ordering someone to drop their weapons, walk to the altar, and sacrifice the captive, say, or turn on their comrades in battle, or open the cursed book of Graalk, or open the gate of the besieged city, or…

In later versions of D&D (starting with Holmes) hold person causes paralysis, offering less opportunity for mischief on the part of an inventive caster, a drastic change in the nature of the spell.  I wondered what prompted the change.

So I was excited to see this comment in the Grognardia interview of Len Lakofka that illuminates some of how the change in nature of the spell came about: it seems as actually used in play, hold person required a system shock roll from those it affected.  Mr. Lakofka explains:

In the original AD&D manuscript… Gary had said that if a person was held (via hold person) he/she had to make a system shock roll! I said to Gary that this would become a “Little Finger of Death.” Certainly many NPCs as well as a few characters would have a Constitution score of 14 or lower. A system shock would kill quite a few folks. Since hold person is a 2nd-level cleric spell and 3rd-level magic-user spell, those spell casters needed very little experience to gain access to the prayer/spell. A gaggle of four 3rd-level clerics all throwing hold person at once on the same person would have a very high chance of not only holding him but killing him/her as well. I talked Gary out of it.

Awesome!  Now if we could only hear from someone on how the original magic-missile spell was used (with or without a to-hit roll?) the Mule’s curiosity would be satisfied.

For a bit.

Past Adventures of the Mule

November 2009

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