PrinceCon III Handbook, Part III
So Rare And Special In Old School Games, They Literally Take Up Half The Book Here
Rather bizarrely, someone seems to actually be reading these bits of extemporanea, and following the sometimes strangely synchronous nature of the universe, discusses magic items in D&D… the very topic I’m about to discuss. Go figure.
We now move on to Sword Abilities. It’s not clear how you determine if a sword has abilities, nor how many… I suspect the intent is to use the existing rules in the LBBs. (Little Brown Books, if we’re discussing D&D. Little Black Books, if we’re discussing Traveller. Little Brown Birds, if we’re discussing ornithology. Which we’re not. That’s my wife’s thing, not mine.)
Most of them are pretty typical; again, I’m highlighting the ones I think deserve a highlight, based on completely subjective and arbitrary criteria, including the whims of my current mood. You want academic rigor, go find a dead academic, I always say. (Hmmm… “academic rigor mortis” sounds like a good phrase to describe the state of a field of study where the demands of documentation and completeness are so extreme that original thought or insight has become impossible… I’ll have to use that in something, someday.)
- Ability Notes: This is right in the middle of the ability descriptions, after ‘Detect Undead’ and before ‘ESP’, like it was supposed to be a footnote and was mixed into the main text because this was probably laid out on a typewriter and then mimeographed.
- Illusion Generation: Allows the generation of “non harmful” illusions, which is one of those terms of art that led to endless debate. Probably, the intent was that you couldn’t be burned by illusionary fire, for instance — and yeah, that was totally a topic of interminable warfare among D&D players at the time — but I can, sadly, see it being used by some DMs to effectively nullify any clever use of the power, such as disguising a pit with an illusion so the ogre falls down it. “That’s harming the ogre!” “That’s not what that rule means!” “I say it is, and I’m the DM!” “Want some more General Tso’s chicken?” “OK, the ogre falls and dies. Pass the soy sauce.”
- Battle Fury: Gives you +1 to your effective level for each round, up to +10 levels (this is impressive, trust me), but comes with a 10% chance, per round, to “not stopping until killing everyone in front of him”. Taken literally, this would mean all surviving allies just run behind when the fight is over, and of course, no matter the state of berserker rage he might be in, he won’t keep his eyes on the enemy and, I dunno, turn around to follow them?
- Tirelessness: “Wielder will never become tired or weary from physical exertion”. “What do you mean, you’re taking your sword with you into the king’s harem?”
- Spell: Random spell, level 2-7, castable once per day. This is one of those things that could end up being nigh-useless or nearly game-breaking, depending on how you roll. (Limited Wish, for instance, was a 7th level spell…)
Some interesting items here:
- Armor vs. Walls: Predating Magic:The Gathering debates by nearly 20 years (“How can you Terror a wall?”) this protected you from magical walls — fire, ice, iron, etc. You could walk through them with ease. Possibly you could con your DM into letting you get past blade barrier. There’s an odd note here, regarding magical walls from “War Of The Wizards” — I have no idea what that’s referring to. I dimly recall a game of the era called “WizWar”, I think.
- Paladin’s Armor: The only “aligned” armor, says the text, being either Lawful or Chaotic, and doing damage to the wrong sort of wearer as per aligned swords. Again, a somewhat prescient concept… and it makes me wonder why it wasn’t more common, as it seems an obvious extension of existing rules.
- Ranger’s Armor: Unaligned, but gives bonuses if worn by a ranger. As above, we really didn’t see a lot of class-specific armor despite there being a plethora of other items which were so limited.
- Shield of Throwing: Can be thrown, with a 10% chance of decapitation if the target is AC 7 or less. No word on if shield is red, white, and blue.
- Shield of the Prophet: Can be wielded by clerics while still allowing them to cast spells. “When used by a Prophet of the correct religion, it has other abilities.” No, the book doesn’t offer rules on what constitutes a prophet of a given religion, nor does it say what those “other abilities” are.
- Medallion Of Holding: Nifty because it’s not the sort of thing these items are usually used for. This lets you put one item up to 5000 GP (it’s not clear if that’s weight — the GP was a unit of weight as well as currency) or value, into the medallion, and swap it out once a week.
- Size change: Grow or shrink up to 10 times your size, No evident limits on frequency. Also, no rules for what that means. Does your gear grow/shrink, too? How much extra damage does a 30 foot long sword do? If an inch-high magic user casts a fireball spell, is its damage and AOE scaled down? The canonical response from the “rules light” crowd is “just play with reasonable people, and you don’t have arguments”. Because, as we all know, interpretations of the effects of magical size change is the sort of thing where only one “reasonable” answer exists, and only “unreasonable” people would dispute it. It’s not like size changing has all sorts of often counter-intuitive effects and implications that might merit, oh, several hundred pages of detailed rules for some systems.
- Galileo Medallion: Renders you immune to Clerical spells, since you don’t believe in gods. Presumably, this affects healing spells, as well.
Basically, a (small) category of magic items for clerics (I’d rule they take the form of whatever holy symbol is appropriate). They grant a +1 to +3 bonus of dispelling/turning undead, and to protections spells. Worthy of mention because it’s such an obvious category of item that was never well developed during the time.
- Balls Of Bravery. Yes, they went there.
- Bowling: Knocks down opponents. Of course.
This refers to the incense burner, not the book burner, though it seems odd they didn’t include a “Censor Of Speech” which did 1d6 damage to any character who used foul language… especially when you consider that they did include this:
- Cup of Oberon: Pours out healing potion for elves, normal wine for humans, and vinegar for dwarves. I would immediately demand a Beer Stein of Gimli, with suitably opposite effects.
- Cup Of The Assassin: Creates a ‘Mahler Style’ poison, and I’m out of Vienna jokes. Sorry.
- False Flying Carpet: Has a 25% chance of failing at random times. Insert tasteless joke about whichever airline just had a horrible crash at the time you read this here.
Another interesting typographical oddity here: Item names went from Normal Case to ALL CAPS. I’d suspect this is where someone (perhaps Howard) took over the writing and decided to use his or her preferred stylistic guidelines. Just an interesting example of how personal this book was… it was put together by whoever felt like working on some part of it, anticipating open source development, where code modules would be written by whoever, so the same project will have wildly varying conventions for variable names and the like.
- Jeweled Chimes; Worth 30,000 GP if you don’t try to ring them. They shatter if rung. Nasty trick.
- CHIMES OF THE PHAROAHS(SIC): Summons 1-6 mummies to attack the chime-ringer and his allies. Getting a message here: Don’t sound the chimes!
- Lyre Of Truth: Of course.
You might notice a lack of alphabetical order, here. Hell, it was a lot harder to sort things when everything you wrote was basically in a fixed format, and the only way to re-order items was to literally re-type everything, or maybe do something with lead that didn’t involve sending your ork marauders to attack those space marines, I dunno.
Anyway, I’m feeling lazier than usual, so, first off, here’s a scan of some brooms, so I don’t have to write long descriptions by hand.
Second, some comments:
- Pocket Armenians? What the frak? What the frakkin’ frak? I’m guessing “inside joke”, probably a reference to a fellow student who was a)Armenian, and b)Short. Today, the college would be sued for committing microaggressions or something. Get it? Microaggressions? (Hey, you want tasteful jokes… or, for that matter, funny jokes… go read Wil Wheaton or something.)
- The “clean up crew” monsters is a reference us real old school gamers get, and you punk kids don’t. This was a term used, originally by Gygax, to refer to gelatinous cubes, carrion crawlers, and assorted slimes and puddings that scoured the dungeon eating everything, thus keeping it ‘clean’. As Lore Sjoberg later noted, the 10′ by 10′ gelatinous cube was “genetically adapted to graph paper”. Y’know, monster categorization is a ‘thing’ since D&D 3.0. In addition to Humanoid, Monstrous Humanoid, Magical Beast, Magically Bestial Monstrous Humanoid, and so on, I’d like “Clean Up Crew” as a monster type. Sure, there’s the “Ooze” type, but it’s just not the same.
- The Witch’s Broom sounds great for witches… except there is no ‘witch’ class officially. There was a The Dragon article (no, that’s not a typo, the magazine was called ‘The Dragon’ then) about witches as a class, so maybe that’s what this refers to. Might even have been a Strategic Review article, that’s how long ago this was.
- Figurines Of Wealth Consumption: These tiny figures come in hundreds of different styles, and depict all manner of men and creatures, from all ages, from the distant past to the distant future. When any are touched, a compulsion comes upon the wielder, causing them to spend more and more money purchasing them, and hours of time painting them, only to throw them all away every three or four years when a “rules upgrade” is issued, beginning the process all over again. OK, I made all that up. It’s not in there. But, damn, it should have been.
- Figurine of Truth/Untruth: It has the use of X-rays, ESP, “clairaud.” (sic), “clairvoy.” (sic) to “determine information”. It can be used once per day, and lies 1/3rd of the time. This basically seems really useless to me, unless you did something like asking the same question every day for a week and figuring out that the answer given most of the time was probably true, by the odds. Pity you couldn’t just shoot it in the foot. Oh, there’s also a Figurine Of Untruth/Truth, which lies 2/3rds of the time and tells the truth 1/3rd of the time. I guess you could empirically determine which one you had by asking it a question you knew the answer to, again over the course of several days, and evaluating the frequency of honest to dishonest answers. (And, yes, we did think like that, back in the day. I keep telling you people, it was all about battles of wits between the DM and the players.)
- Necklace of Pearls: Get your mind out of the gutter, perverts. (That’s “perVECT!”) (Gods, will anyone get that reference? I’m old. I’m so old.) This is a necklace of “one of each of the pearls listed in Blackmoor”, and I originally read it wrong and had a really good… well, tolerable… passable… OK, space-filling joke that relied on my misreading, that I had to delete, so instead I filled the space with this explanation you’re reading now.
Misc. Misc. Magic
From the Department Of Redundancy Department.
- Wings of Death: At the first chance, will kill the user. Presumably, by dropping him or her from a great height, but for all I know, they beat the wearer to death, or something.
- And then there’s this…
I have absolutely no idea what this means or refers to. I know an arquebus is a primitive gun, of course. What gamer doesn’t know that? None worthy of being called “gamer”! But the whole thing doesn’t make any sense to me. I could figure it out in about a minute of googling, of course, but being a celebration of things old-school, I’m going to enjoy something that one rarely can enjoy in this modern age: Not knowing something. (Seriously, when I have the full text of Wikipedia in my pocket, ignorance is pretty hard to justify.)
- Mickey Mouse Gloves: Today, these would be called “Gauntlets Of The Immense Rodent”, or something, to forestall lawsuits. But this comes from a more innocent time. They are, in fact, really nifty: When worn by an animal of roughly human size, they give the animal dexterity as if it were human. Great for animal companions (if they existed back then… can’t recall if rangers got them in 1e, and like I said earlier, I’m in a really lazy mood, which is like Donald Trump saying he’s feeling particularly greedy today), and smaller beasts of burden.
- Gloves Of Silence: You’d think this would enable the wearer to slap someone while using the incantation “Ah, shuddupa you face!” to cause them to suffer the effects of a silence spell, but, no. These let you stick your fingers in your ears to resist sonic-based attacks like harpy songs and the like. But if you take your fingers out to cast a spell or use a sword, do you lose immunity? You’d look pretty dumb (and be pretty useless) going the whole fight with your fingers in your ears.
- Strangler’s Gloves, see above clipping: Not a particularly unusual type of item for the era, I’m highlighting it as an example of one of the dead horses I’ve beaten throughout this series, and will continue to beat: The oddly random degree to which things were detailed in terms of specific rules and specific cases. (And immediately, I wonder: Can you strangle a dragon if you’re much smaller? How about undead, that don’t need to breathe? Or a gelatinous cube?)
Surprisingly free of the obvious jokes. Seriously, did Gygax not understand that to most of the world, “girdle” was not merely a synonym for “belt”?
- Girdle Of False Strength: One of the nastier (more subtle) cursed items I’ve seen: It acts like a typical Girdle of Giant Strength, but each time that power is used, the wearer’s actual Strength drops a point, and when it hits 0, he becomes a shadow… and not the kind that knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
- Girdle of False Polymorphism: Causes the user’s object code to appear as if it supports correctly casting objects to their ancestral types, but instead causes invalid pointer errors when executed by a customer. OK, not quite. It allows you to change shape, but there’s a 40% chance you’ll be permanently transformed into a random creature.
- Reducing Girdle: Causes the wearer to lose weight until they’re at a healthy value for their size. OK, I was wrong. They did use the obvious jokes.
- Mirror Of Holding: Something of an oddity, like the Medallion of Holding above. It will store one magic item, retrievable by the person who put it there. I’m guessing whoever DMed at Princeton was a real stickler for encumbrance rules.
- Mirror of Recharging: As a mirror of holding, but when the item is removed, it has regained one charge. This ability is only usable once per month. Really? I mean, really? Oooooh, once a month I can get back one charge. I use 20 charges from my Rod Of Lordly Might every time I go into a dungeon… or the seedier part of town, if you etgay my iftdray. Oh, thank you, Mr. DM, for your generous magic item! Sheesh. One charge for one item once a month? Screw this, I’m gonna see if there’s a Traveller game going on, or something. One charge… bloody waste of…
- Mirror of Movement: Stepping into the mirror allows you to step out of any other mirror of which you are “consciously aware”. The possibilities are endless, but you do leave the source mirror behind, so it’s a one-way trip.
Sigh. I’d really hoped to finish this today, as it’s been two weeks, but we still have 18 pages to go. Maybe next time.