D&D General Haste: The (system) Shocking History of the Spell!

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
I recently fell down a deep rabbit hole of research after looking at one of my favorite obscure rules from AD&D - the system shock roll! More importantly, while looking into it, I happened to come across the weird history of the haste spell, and why that might explain one of the least-used, most draconian aspects of the AD&D system.

So, with all due ... um ... haste, let's get into the history of every munchkin's favorite spell, and how that spell might have caused the creation of the dreaded system shock table!

1. Haste in OD&D.

So, what was haste in OD&D? HA HA! Trick question. NO ONE KNOWS. Well, that's not quite true, but it is the best example of how OD&D was ... not always easy to understand. Let me show you what was written in the LBBs!

Haste Spell: This is exactly the opposite of a Slow Spell in effect, but otherwise like it. Note that it will counter its opposite and vice-versa.

Okay, no big deal! Let's see what the slow spell says!

Slow Spell: A broad-area spell which affects up to 24 creatures in a maximum area of 6” x 12”. Duration: 3 turns. Range: 24”.

.....wait, wut? It's the opposite of slow, but slow doesn't tell us what slow does! So to try and understand it, you can either look to Chainmail, or look at the Potion of Haste (in V.2, Monsters & Treasure). What does haste do?

It doubles your movement! Cool. Note, however, it does nothing to your attacks, or your attack rate. You move faster, but don't attack more. Haste is a cool spell (especially as you can use it on a group!) but doesn't really affect game balance that much.


2. Haste in AD&D.

It's AD&D when we see the first modern iteration of haste, and boy, does it change. This change is first tipped off in Holmes Basic, which was both a codification of OD&D as well as a kinda-sorta precursor to AD&D. While Holmes doesn't provide a description of the haste spell, it does provide a description of the haste potion!

Haste — User moves at twice normal speed and can deliver twice the usual number of blows during combat for the durations of the potion effect.

There it is! Haste now affects the number of attacks you can make. Haste DOUBLES your attacks. The year after Holmes saw the publication of the 1e PHB, which has the following description of the haste spell:

When this spell is cost, affected creatures function at double their normal movement and attack rates. Thus, a creature moving at 6" and attacking 1 time per round would move at 12" and attack 2 times per round. Spell casting is not more rapid. The number of creatures which can be affected is equal to the level of experience of the magic-user, those creatures closest to the spell caster being affected in preference to those farther away, and all affected by haste must be in the designated area of effect. Note that this spell negates the effects of a slow spell (see hereafter). Additionally, this spell ages the recipients due to speeded metabolic processes. Its material component is a shaving of licorice root

So there is a lot to unpack there, but the first thing is ... why a licorice root? Well, most spell components in AD&D were jokes. Licorice is a laxative; eat it and make haste! But the other two things to note are that: (1) haste now DOUBLES your attack rate, and (2) it ages you.

To begin with the attack rate- this was a pretty nice thing, most of the time. But even with basic AD&D rules, it quickly became unbalanced (notably, Monks couldn't be hasted). Fighters, for example, received a number of attacks equal to their level against monsters with less than 1 hd (kobolds and the like), so a 10th level fighter would receive ... 20 attacks per round. In addition, fighters would initially go to 3 attacks every two rounds, and this would put them to 3 attacks every round. Finally, while two-weapon fighting wasn't nearly as widely used, every person using TWF would now get four attacks every round! And the Magic User could haste as many people as the Magic User had levels.

It's easy to see how this could be unbalancing with some clever players .... and this is where the aging came in. Haste .... aged you ONE YEAR every time you used it.

But wait! you say I am the munchkinest munchkin ever! Sure, that might matter for a human, but Ima game that system! I'm going to play an ELF and haste whenever I feel like it! Suck it, rules people!

And that's where you made a mistake, for you have angered the Gygax.


3. System Shock, or Gygax telling you that he didn't like certain spells!

Here's the thing- most of AD&D was the codification of different rules for OD&D that had been published in other TSR sources, or used by Gygax. And Gygax ... oh, he knew all about those haste shenanigans. Gygax answered a question about haste here on these forums! When asked about haste, aging and system shock, he replied-

[Haste was] Too popular until "fixed." The Haste spell, along with Speed potion consumption, was the subject of considerable abuse in not only my camopaign but in many others. Thus the strictures [age and system shock] added to the spell.

Most persons getting hasted were fighters with good constitution scores, so the system shock was not all that tough a challenge. Elf and dwarf fighters didn't care about the aging effect either. so the added demands didn't do more than cut the abuse by around 90%


And there we have the genesis of the idea. Haste was too good, and prone to much abuse, so Gygax "fixed" it by adding the aging requirement and the system shock requirement (which would affect the long-lived dwarves and elves).

Which brings us to ... what exactly is system shock in 1e? Well, it's an extrapolation of an idea that first appeared in OD&D. While it isn't really developed, in OD&D Constitution specifically says that it also is "how well the character can withstand being paralyzed, turned to stone, etc." and then is later used as surviving adversity in the GH supplement.

From these words, we get the full system shock table in 1e. System shock was a special, percentile saving throw based on your constitution score. It was "the percentage chance the character has of surviving the following forms of magical attacks (or simple application of the magic): aging, petrification (including flesh to stone spell), polymorph any object, polymorph others."

There are three things to note here-

1. It was every application. So, for example, if you were petrified, and then brought back (or polymorphed, and then returned to your original form) ... that was two saves.
2. Unlike the mention in OD&D, paralysis is no longer a condition that requires a system shock roll. Len Lakofka claimed that his greatest contribution to D&D was convincing Gygax to NOT include "Hold Person" among the spells that would require system shock rolls, and that appears to indicate that he convinced Gygax to not include paralysis at all.
3. Aging.

Why aging? Because aging was used by Gygax to curb spells that he thought were prone to abuse. In addition, casters back then weren't known for their high constitutions! So ...
casting alter reality spell- 3 years
casting gate spell- 5 years
casting limited wish spell- 1 year
casting restoration spell- 2 years
casting resurrection spell- 3 years
casting wish spell- 3 years
under a haste spell- 1 year

Let's think about resurrection for a second.
Casting resurrection would age the caster three years, and the caster would have to make a system shock roll to survive.
In addition, the person being resurrected had to make a roll on the resurrection survival table- fail that, and they were forever dead.

So it was possible that a resurrection spell could result in both the caster dying, and the recipient being forever dead. Good times!


Conclusion-

The main point to draw from this is that TSR-era D&D wasn't designed per se, so much as it was an agglomeration of reactions to how people played. Looking at how haste evolved, and led to abuse, and then led to rules to try and curb that abuse - including system shock - is an instructive way to see how the game was evolving early on.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
giphy.gif
 




Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I've found changing the aging side-effect to 1 Human-year-equivalent for all species to be enough of a deterrent that Haste is only cast in dire situations in my 1e-variant games, which is what I want. I did away with the SSS roll for aging effects that don't come from hostile attacks e.g. voluntarily casting various spells, but kept it if one is aged by a hostile attack. I then defined Polymorph Other as always being a hostile act even if you're casting it on a friend (in other words, nobody will willingly accept being polymorphed by someone else), in order to stop exploits before they started, and that's worked well enough.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Supporter
I've found changing the aging side-effect to 1 Human-year-equivalent for all species to be enough of a deterrent that Haste is only cast in dire situations in my 1e-variant games, which is what I want. I did away with the SSS roll for aging effects that don't come from hostile attacks e.g. voluntarily casting various spells, but kept it if one is aged by a hostile attack. I then defined Polymorph Other as always being a hostile act even if you're casting it on a friend (in other words, nobody will willingly accept being polymorphed by someone else), in order to stop exploits before they started, and that's worked well enough.

I think that's a fine house rule!

IME, system shock rolls were not common at many tables. They did seem unusually punitive.

I would add that the resurrection limit and the resurrection chance to survive was also not very often observed, but, as always, individual table variance is high.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
To begin with the attack rate- this was a pretty nice thing, most of the time. But even with basic AD&D rules, it quickly became unbalanced (notably, Monks couldn't be hasted). Fighters, for example, received a number of attacks equal to their level against monsters with less than 1 hd (kobolds and the like), so a 10th level fighter would receive ... 20 attacks per round. In addition, fighters would initially go to 3 attacks every two rounds, and this would put them to 3 attacks every round. Finally, while two-weapon fighting wasn't nearly as widely used, every person using TWF would now get four attacks every round! And the Magic User could haste as many people as the Magic User had levels.
Since fighters had an attack rate of 3/2 or 1 attack the first round and 2 attacks the second round, wouldn't doubling the rate be 2 attacks the first round and 4 attacks the second round? It's still 6 attacks over two rounds, but 3 attacks a round doesn't seem like an accurate doubling of the fighter's current attack rate.
 



Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top