Magic Changes Resource Management: 1E AD&D

First, I assume Gygax included various spells in 1E AD&D because after playtesting he liked the effect they had on the game. There are a few spells that really change the way players experience the game.

At first level, you need to carry enough food and water to survive. You need to carry torches or lanterns and oil for light. To travel overland you need horses, and even then it will be a long slog filled with treasure-poor wilderness encounters.

At third level, the party Cleric gets Continual Light. Everyone in the party should be equipped with a couple coins and several iron spikes lit with the spell. Now nobody needs to keep torches for light: torches, lanterns, and oil are kept to set fires for other reasons which are less-important.

At fifth level, the party Cleric gets Create Food and Water. Now you don’t need to carry more provisions than a couple days’ worth in case the Cleric goes down. You can also travel through uncharted wilderness without worrying about supplies running out, or hunting / foraging.

Both of these give you more space on your PC for treasure or armor / weapons. At about the same level PCs should all have at least +1 armor, which improves movement and doesn’t weigh anything. Again, you can now carry more treasure.

At seventh level, the party Magic-User might get Dimension Door. This allows bypassing dungeon levels you don’t want to deal with, so long as you’re familiar with the destination. So you can enter the dungeon, Dimension Door down a level or two, and get straight to business. If he has a second DD he can get everyone out instantly too.

He might also get Leomund’s Secure Shelter at seventh, which creates a safe shelter while adventuring and reduces the need to travel back home.

At ninth level, the party Magic-User might get Teleport. This allows immediate travel to anywhere, with low chances of catastrophic failure if you’re familiar with the destination. This means you can travel across a desert on foot, and once you get there you can Teleport back and forth with ease. But because of the small chance of death I don’t know how regular such travel would be. Certainly nobody would Teleport across town on a whim. Once you have Teleport, overland adventure becomes less frequent: the Magic-User gradually becomes familiar with destinations farther and farther from the home base, and generally the party can go from town to dungeon instantly. The Magic-User can even zap everyone down to a lower dungeon level.

All of these spells increase the treasure capacity (which reduces trips home) and adventuring range of the party. They typically also reduce reliance on NPCs in town (especially high level Cleric spells).

Several magic items also help. Flying Carpets allow fast overland travel with fewer encounters. Bags of Holding and Portable Holes allow carrying huge amounts of treasure.

All of this means the attention of the players gradually shifts away from counting food and water and illuminations, simplifying the Normal Equipment part of the character sheet just as the Magic Items inventory becomes more complex. The same applies to climbing equipment (rope, iron spikes, grappling hooks) eventually as people acquire flight magic. Often the magical replacement for normal equipment just does the job better and weighs nothing (Rope of Climbing, Figurine of Wondrous Power).

If we take the opening proposition as true, then the game designers intended this sort of thing to happen. Which means low-level play was intended to be more focused on nonmagical equipment to solve problems, and high level play focused on magical equipment to solve problems.

Looked at in that way, each piece of equipment exists to solve problems on the adventure. Likewise, each piece of magical equipment and spell exists to solve problems. A Ring of Feather Falling can be seen as an item that eliminates falling damage. Or you could look at it as a counter to Pit Traps. Both the Read Languages skill for Thieves and the Comprehend Languages spell for Magic-Users exist to decode treasure maps, and to a lesser extent understand foreign writing. The Helm of Comprehending Languages and Reading Magic does the same thing for other classes. Note that the Thief gets the skill for free, the Magic-User must find the spell and memorize it, and everyone else needs an expensive magic item on their head.

This goes back to my post on underwater adventure as well.

If you write an adventure for low-level characters, create problems they need nonmagical equipment to solve. High level adventures need problems requiring magical equipment. You might also come across the hilarious situation where none of the high level PCs has a piece of common equipment because they gradually ditch that stuff as they acquire sweet sparkly toys.

This is why high-level adventurers aren’t depicted with lots of equipment: they have skills or magic items that let them bypass the simple environmental problems that plague low-level characters.

It also means the DM can throw intense environmental problems at the party, such as howling storms on fracturing glaciers where without magic it’s impossible to see, climb, eat, drink, and stay warm. A low-level mystery adventure might involve tracking down physical clues and questioning unreliable witnesses, whereas a high-level mystery adventure requires use of ESP, Detect Lies, and True Seeing to get anywhere at all because simple clues and testimony are absent.

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4 Responses to “Magic Changes Resource Management: 1E AD&D”

  1. Guest Says:

    Nitpick: dimension door is a ride for the MU only, not the whole party.

    “This is why high-level adventurers aren’t depicted with lots of equipment: they have skills or magic items that let them bypass the simple environmental problems that plague low-level characters.”

    Insightful! I hadn’t realized that.

  2. Brendan Says:

    “All of this means the attention of the players gradually shifts away from counting food and water and illuminations, simplifying the Normal Equipment part of the character sheet just as the Magic Items inventory becomes more complex. … Which means low-level play was intended to be more focused on nonmagical equipment to solve problems, and high level play focused on magical equipment to solve problems.”

    Great observation. Seen this way, many of the design decisions in recent versions of the game were intended to circumvent the first part of the game, which is more focused on mundane resource management.

  3. 1d30 Says:

    @Guest: I guess we always did it that people counted against weight limit the same way items did, so a high level M-U could take people along with. Probably not many, if you add it up. You could also do Shrink spells on people and carry them through!

    @Brendan: It’s possible those game designers felt that stuff wasn’t fun. If the resource management part of the game tested poorly in focus groups and polls, I could see why they would change it.

  4. Lucien Helmen Says:

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