Saturday, October 1, 2016

The First Magic Swords


"Several of us were injured trying to pick up the magic sword. One of the guys was eventually successful in picking it up, though. We collectively decided that we were in way over our heads and to return to the castle."   The First Dungeon Adventure,  Greg Svenson.

"...Dave’s perception of our alignment, as it is called now, affected whether we were able to hold the magic sword we found during that first adventure. Several of the players were injured when they picked it up. In fact, I was the only player who didn’t try to pick it up. I was afraid to try after seeing what happened to the other unsuccessful players. When I was the last one standing and the battle was over, I picked it up and wrapped it using a piece of leather, so that I would not come in contact with it and then carried it out of the dungeon and immediately sold it to the baron of Blackmoor for a whopping 150 GP."
Shams Grog.& Blog Q AND A-with-Greg-Svenson

Magic swords have been a major prize in Blackmoor, perhaps even from the very first game.
In the FFC there are two separate sections dealing with magic swords.  The second section, titled simple "Matrix" was a draft of what became the magic sword portion of the 3lbbs, and we've looked at that before. (Here: http://boggswood.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-mystery-of-18-pages-of-notes.html  scroll down to "Post Dalluhn Material")  I haven't talked much about the first Magic Sword entry in the FFC, so that is what we will be examining here. 

By way of introduction, Arneson says, "Prior to setting up Blackmoor, I spent a considerable effort in setting up an entire family of Magical Swords.  The Swords, indeed comprise most of the early magical artifacts.  A small table was prepared and the Swords' characteristics set up on cards.....   The nature and the powers of the Spells and Swords were taken right from the available copies of Chainmail, which served as the basis of all our combat." (FFC 77:64)

There is a lot to unpack in those statements.  It has been the case that persons unimpressed with Arneson's contributions to fantasy RPGs, have pointed to these quotes as confirmation that Arneson was merely adapting CHAINMAIL.  One need only look at the swords themselves to realize Arneson was being overly humble. 

I think it is necessary to begin by pointing out that there is no reason whatever to think the quote above was referring to some now lost list of magic swords.  By all appearances, the swords we find listed on pages 64-66 of the FFC (1977) are those very first swords Arneson was speaking of.  Now, when we look at "the powers of the spells" of the swords on these pages,  only the spell "Detection" can be found in the first edition CHAINMAIL spell list.  Some of the other powers can be found as features of various creatures (ghouls paralyze, for example), but there is certainly no weaponry or spells with powers like these in CHAINMAIL.  Further, while  the creatures against which magical swords are effective are indeed mostly from CM, there are two original creatures.  In any case, the "nature" of Arneson's magical swords are nothing like the simple magical weapons in CHAINMAIL.

The Sword write up in the FFC can be divided into three parts.  First, there is a jumbled list of the possible characteristics, followed by two sections of lists detailing the actual original Blackmoor swords Arneson generated.

The first sword section is an alphabetic list of 18 swords designated by letters A through R.  The second section is list is of swords designated by 11 different colors.  Svenny's famous sword "Maroon" is one of these.

Okay, getting down to brass tacks: here is how the swords work.  Each sword has four sets of characteristics:

Double Values
Special Values
Trait Increases
GP Value

1) Double Values refers to the monsters which the sword is unusually effective against.  The text explains Double Values in a small note "that is, gets two chops per round."  This note is possibly a D&D era editorial explanation added by Arneson.  If we look at other instances of Double Values in the pre D&D material in the FFC, it carries the connotation of double damage dice.  For example, the description of Trolls and Ogres has this statement "Elves get DBL value hits while hero types and magic weapons get hits times six." (FFC 77:91)  Either application, or both together, will make the sword a potent weapon.

1
Were Bear
2
Were Wolves
3
Ghosts
4
Anti-Heroes
5
Ents
6
Evil Wizards
7
Orcs
8
Trolls
9
Goblins
10
Ghouls
11
 Mortals
12
Ogres
13
Elementals
14
Wraiths
15
Balrogs
16
Puddings
17
Giants
18
Dragons

As mentioned, these are all CHAINMAIL creatures, EXCEPT, for Arneson's puddings and mortals.  Note that there are 18 monsters and 18 "Lettered" swords (A-R).  This is a convenient number when using old style 0-9 d20's, ignoring the 0.

Next, to determine the number of creatures a sword will have Double Values against, we are provided with this cryptic note: 

"Std = 0, M = 6, Sm =12"

Now you might at first assume those abbreviations stand for standard, medium, and small (of something), but that's problematic for several obvious reasons. 

Having thought about this way more than I should have, I think the abbreviations are for something like:

Standard  
Magical,
Special magic 

The word special is used several times in the old material, for example, in the dungeon we see "W,A.S.P." and SP, meaning "with a special power".   These may or may not be the right terms for the sword values, but the values equated to each type in the note appear to indicate the dice to use for determining Double Values; thus a "Std" sword has none, an "M" sword has 1d6 and a "Sm" sword has 2d6.

Further, this explains the reason the swords occur in two lists, one alphabetical and one by color.  All the alphabetical list swords have double values in the 1-6 range with an average value of 3.44 (62/18; the expected average is 3.5). 

On the other hand, the swords on the colors list have noticeably higher values falling within a 2d6 range with an average score of 7.27 (80/11; the expected average of 2d6 is 7).  I should note however that there is some evidence internal to the colors list suggesting it may have been created first.

So to sum, Arneson's method appears to have been to have first determined whether a sword was of limited magic, magical or of special magic.  If an M type was indicated 1d6 was rolled, and if an Sm type was indicated, 2d6 was rolled.

It is apparent from a few cases where the roman numeral "II" was added, that if the same Double Value came up a second time on the dice roll, then the die results were added; meaning 1d6 + 1d6 for M swords and 2d6 + 2d6 for Sm swords.   

Only these latter two types (M, Sm) seem to be preserved in the FFC examples.

It is interesting to note,  yet another instance here of early Blackmoor foreshadowing D&D, with the"Std",  "M", and "Sm" sword types being analogous to typical "+ only" swords, magic swords, and swords of legend. 

Moving along...

2) Special Values
There are 9 listed and 10 actual special values a given sword could have.  The tenth special value "dragons" (I presume it is control dragons) was dropped from the given list, but nonetheless appears as a special value in the pre made swords. (These sorts of slip ups are common in the FFC material.) 

D10
SV
1
Invisibility Detection
2
Magic Detection
3
Magic Ability*
4
Evil Detection
5
Cause Moral Check
6
Invisibility
7
See in Darkness
8
Raise Morale
9
Paralyze
10
(Control?) Dragons

*Magic Ability - that is any spells the sword knows and can cast.  In the examples given only the number of spells is listed,  ranging from 2 to 8 spells.   In the original 1977 print of the FFC, Arneson supplies this explanation, which I will quote here in full because it is missing from the 1980 reprint. "Magic Spells (Referee determines it secretly) - roll once for level of the spell using a 6 sided die and then roll again on the standard basic spell list for that level to determine which spells are being carried on the sword." (77:67) Again, in all likelihood this is a D&D era explanation, probably supplied for the publication of the FFC.  Nevertheless, the takeaway is that Arneson determined the spells by random rolls on a table.  Given that, and the fact that the color list "Sm" has one sword with 8 spells and another with double magic and 17 spells, we can apply the pre existing formula  "M = 6, Sm =12".  Thus a lettered sword from the alphabetical list has 1d6 spells and a sword from the colors list has 1d12 spells.

Now I want to draw your attention to a curiosity.  Using 1d6 for type "M" and 2d6 for Type "Sm" fits well with the data for Magic Ability, and it also fits the ranges we see for the number of Special Values each sword is given.  However, if we take all the numbers given for the Special Values of each sword and then average the result something weird happens.  For the lettered swords, if "M" = 1d6, then the average should be close to 3.5 as we saw with the Double Values above, but the actual average is only 2.7 (49/18).  Likewise for the colored swords, if "Sm" = 2d6, then the expected average is 7, but the actual average is only 5.6 (62/11).  This means the SV of each sword type is about -1 from expected.   I'm not sure why this is.  

However, going back to that jumbled list of characteristics that precedes the swords themselves, we find another cryptic formula that I believe applies here:  

 "1/2/3 Die divided by 1/2 for Value;  Std = 0-3, M=0-6, Sm =-0-9"

At first blush the "Value" in question might seem to be the GP value (discussed below), but I see no way to match the given values in gold pieces found in the sword list to this formula.

 Nowhere in either the colored or alphabetical list is there any sign of a "0" value however.  Certainly with rounding down, a 0 value would be obtained on 1/2 of a 1d6, but it is not clear to me how you would get a zero, even with rounding down, on 1/2 of 2d6 or 3d6.  Possibly that is simply a mistake in the text?   

It may be that 1/2/3 doesn't mean "one die/two dice/three dice" but is simply a redundant way of saying "Std/M/Sm", and the "die divided by 1/2 for Value" just means 0-9 on a twenty sider.  In which case you would ignore 4-9 for Std swords and 7-9 for M swords.    

Alternatively, "divided" might not really be divided, but minus instead - in a classic Arneson-speak kind of way.  In other words, minus 1/2 of maximum value; 1d6-3, 2d6-6, and 3d6-9, ignoring/re-rolling any value below zero.   Interestingly, the average value expected on a 0-6 range is 3, and the average value expected value of 0-9 is 4.5.  Both are better matches to the data.  <shrug>

3) Third are trait increases or what we might call ability bonuses  that are apparently granted to the user.  The three categories are:

Strength
Combat
Intelligence

(Note that the word "Increase" follows each of these terms on the color name sword list.)

Once again the formula "Std = 0-3, M=0-6, Sm =-0-9" does fit reasonably well with the values given in the FFC for Strength, Combat and Intelligence of the various swords.

The alphabetical lettered swords (the"M" series) do indeed all range within 0-6 for these traits (1-6 actually), whereas the color named swords (the" Sm" series) do fall within 0-9 (3-9 actually).

It may be useful here to consider the averages, keeping in mind that these expected values:

Range
Mean
0-6
3
1-6
3.5
0-9
4.5
1-10
5.5

Here are the results of averaging the total given sword trait values:

Lettered Swords
Range
Mean
Strength
(60/18)  3.3
Combat
(66/18)  3.6
Intelligence
(49/18)  2.7
combined
               3.2

Color Sword List
Range
Mean
Strength
(64/11)   5.81
Combat
(50/11)   4.54
Intelligence
(61/11)   5.54
combined
                5.29

Again, I'm not sure what method best explains these numbers, though they do appear to be consistent with the Special Values figures discussed previously.
  
Suggestions are welcome.  :)

Moving on again...

4) Value (or "appearance") in Gold Pieces.

There doesn't appear to be any note on how this is supposed to be generated, so I've listed all the swords and their GP values below, along with the apparent formula used to get those numbers.  For further reference fun, the column on the left shows any Blackmoor dungeon room stocked with any of these weapons.   Note that there are also "Lettered" swords stocked in the Loch Gloomin adventure, but the exact sword is not specified.

Location
Sword
GP

A
320

B
320
Lvl 9, rm 31
C
120

D
480

E
360
Lvl 8, rm 34
F
280

G
440

H
200

I
240

J
200
Lvl 8, rm 2
K
280
Lvl 7, rm 12
L
400
Lvl 7, rm 12
M
320
Lvl 8, rm 12
N
400

O
440

P
80

Q
280

R
320


Location
Sword
GP

Red
800

White/Silver
560
Lvl 7, rm 2
Blue
960

Purple
560

Green
800

Gold
560

Grey
880

Pink
880

Yellow
560

Black
560

Maroon
800

You will no doubt note that the "lettered" sword list values are all factors of 4 and the colors are all factors of 8.  Crunching those figures shows no relation to the previous "Values" formula.  Instead, I suggests Arneson used the following method to determine sword values:

Std swords: 1d6 * 20 (no example given)
M swords    2d6 * 40
Sm swords  3d6 * 80


So there you have it.  Now, one last thing I'll point out - Arneson doesn't mention anything here about alignment, yet if you will recall the quote I began the article with, it is pretty clear that these original magic swords would zap you, just as in D&D, if you weren't their type and you touched the bare blade.
Perhaps that's a feature Dave made up on the spot.


Happy Birthday Dave Arneson; October 1, 1947

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