Charmed, I’m sure

Exploring the play – emergent and otherwise  – of OD&D we have noticed recently that charm person in OD&D is a much more powerful spell in OD&D than in later versions of the game.  In OD&D the victim comes

completely under the influence of the Magic-User until such a time as the “charm” is dispelled (Dispell Magic).

Without periodic opportunities to shrug off the charm, the Magic-User casting charm will accumulate a growing mob of completely loyal followers.  In charming the occasional orc or goblin there is natural attrition as these allies-of-convenience set off traps and act as meat shields.  But what is to prevent even a low level Magic-User from slowly charming everyone around them and building an empire, one magically loyal servant at a time?  A few things to consider:

First, in a world where charm person exists and even the least accomplished of Magic-Users can cast it, this will be a common danger.  Those able to cast dispell magic will do so on themselves and their retainers frequently.  Established authorities, heroes, and higher level Wizards will seek to slay or co-opt Magic-Users indulging in this pasttime too often, and having a reputation for casting charm person will quickly become a liability in dealing with others.

Second, this permanent charm is easy to take for granted.  But a dispell magic can instantly turn a faithful bodyguard into a savagely vengeful enemy, who has had months or years stolen from their life.

Third, especially for player characters, charm person is not very efficient when used on what would normally be a hireling or retainer.  No matter how well you treat them or how long they serve you, thier loyalty will always be subject to dispell magic.  Like a mid-tier chess player, the magic-user who uses charm too often will eventually box themselves in, surrounded by a charmed retinue, unable to attract or recruit other allies.  In the long run, better to simply treat your retainers well, and earn their true allegiance.

(This does not apply, of course, to evil Magic-Users who charm everyone and treat them horribly… but they are generally the bad guys the PC’s are trying to kill, which reinforces the point).

12 Responses to “Charmed, I’m sure”

  1. February 10, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    I’ve actually had a hard time figuring out how to use this spell without breaking my belief in a living world. A powerful watchgroup as you suggest–it’s a known crime, and the authorities won’t stand for it–is a very good suggestion. Thanks for saving my suspension of disbelief!

    That said, LOTS of spells in 0D&D are far more powerful than their 3e and 4e counterparts. The Vancian influence is much more obvious when compared to later editions’ mind-influencing

  2. February 10, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Like its source material, OD&D presumes that Magic-Users are very rare. In Middle-Earth, only the Elves and the Istari wield magic, while in Lankhmar, magicians like Sheelba and Ningauble are enigmatic and reclusive. On the Dying Earth, thaumaturges are well-known and their domains well-marked; everyone respects the power and eccentricity of a Rhialto or an Iucounu. The sorcerers of the Hyborian Age are figures of dread that do not walk in the company of ordinary men, and to enter their lairs is foolhardy.

  3. 3 maldoor
    February 10, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    My favorite so far is the OD&D version of hold person. Instead of freezing people in place, it acts as a more powerful charm that affects 1-4 persons. In literature terms, this is how I see a sorcerer or high priest compelling someone to drop their weapons, climb up on a sacrificial altar and lay down, helpless…

    In OD&D Magic-Users are assumed to be scarce, but are not all that rare, in fact. If you set up a sandbox wilderness according to the guidelines in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures you can expect there to be about 7-8 wizards in established castles. In clear terrain there is about a 4% chance of encountering one as a wandering monster, a chance which increases to about 10% when you add in the chance of a Magic-User of lower level to be attached to the various groups of men which can be encountered (brigands and bandits).

    In clear terrain the chance of a dragon being your wandering monster encounter is about 14%!

    There are a lot of hidden assumptions in the crafting of wandering monster tables…

  4. February 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    I think that just goes to show that dragons and magic-users (also clerics and fighting men) are the top predators in the OD&D environment!

    Most of the creatures actually encountered in the wilderness are presumably harmless fauna and/or minor monsters who flee at the PCs’ approach. The tables reflect the encounters that are significant enough to have a possibly dramatic impact on play. I think it’s quite likely that the wizards in those castles are flying around the countryside keeping an eye on what’s going on, just like the dragons do. (Presumably there is some understanding between the two.)

    I think it’s quite reasonable to assume that when you see brigands or bandits accompanying a magic-user, they are all thralls of the M-U. There’s some early-edition support for this: the wizard, Zenopus, in the sample dungeon of Holmes’ blue box basic set has a bodyguard who is explicitly a charmed fighter.

    In literature terms, I think “under the influence of” probably implies a pulp, Shatneresque “can’t… resist… muscles… straining!” such that it’s immediately obvious when someone is charmed, they obey because of an active compulsion to do so (instead of just being set loose to carry out the M-Us agenda until further notice), no bond of friendship is created (as later-edition spell descriptions imply), and the service you get is 100% reliable but not very efficient. It pleases me not to run it that way in the White Sandbox, however, perhaps because I enjoy roleplaying monsters trying to be helpful: “Look, I am wearing a cloak, now I am like you!”

  5. February 10, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    If one starts with a loyal NPC, then casts Charm upon them, the dispelling of such will not result in any great calamity, will it?
    –If this is true, then it stands to reason that treating a charmed being well would possibly reduce their ire (somewhat) upon it being dispelled.

    Just sayin’ ;)

  6. February 10, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    A loyal NPC who’s then mind-controlled might, upon learning of being mind-controlled, become somewhat less loyal. It’s amazing how people can take that sort of thing personally!

  7. February 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    This is a great post. I, for one, would be interested in a book or pdf or whathaveyou that looks at how spells like Charm affect the gameworld environment when taken to their logical extremes — as opposed to an exclusively Player Character perspective (which is what we’ve traditionally been treated to).

  8. February 10, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    Charm person is something that I’ve never used or seen used a lot in games, curiously. Thankfully, I guess.

  9. 9 maldoor
    February 10, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    Thanks G. Benedicto. Along those lines I have long wondered what the existence of flying creatures like dragons, wizards who can levitate and fly, and creatures like earth elementals or xorn would mean for fortress construction. You would have to pay as much attention to defending the roof of your castle, and the dungeons, as the walls and front door. if you had even one Magic-Users among your enemies.

    The existence of continual light would mean that many places could be permanently bright. When I create a dungeon I always put in evidence of past spell use, including places that are now forever lit.

    Like Tavis and Eric above, I assume Magic-Users are rare, displays of power feared and rarely survived.

    This despite every Magic-User PC’s insistence on non-mysterious flaunting/squandering of powers all the time, for instance casting continual light in a tavern to pay a bar bill…

  10. February 11, 2010 at 1:02 am

    “Once some person/creature/object successfully saves against a particular spell cast by a paticular caster that person/creature/object will automatically and always save against that particular spell cast by that particular caster.”

    A rule from somewhere in the OSR blogosphere that I like very much. Not only does it make magic more weird and “magical” it limits the problems spells like charm can create.

  11. February 11, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    @ Norman Harman
    I like that idea, but it seems that the record-keeping would be too much.

  12. February 12, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Norman, I think that house rule is from Arduin, though Hargrave says that if the caster goes up a level, all bets are off.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

February 2010

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