Saturday, May 22, 2010

Will McLean Cartoons: Wizards And Their Familiars

Another Will McLean cartoon, this time from page 44 of the 1979 ADnD Dungeon Masters Guide. In the above cartoon, two mercenaries are holding a Magic-user's familiar hostage, and threatening to kill it if the MU makes a false move.

Part of the glorious mess of OD&D and AD&D was the imprecision of the rules. Frustrating, no doubt, to those of us who may have been rules-lawyers, but a tremendous boon to others who wanted to take a germ of an idea and create their own grand experiment with it.

The 'Find Familiar' spell was one of those glorious messes. In the DMG, Gygax writes, "Purposely killing or causing to be killed a familiar is most likely to find great disfavour with the gods...". What specific disfavour that might entail was left entirely up to the Dungeon Master. Did it mean you would have a -1 adjustment to your rolls for the remaining game session? Or perhaps that all similar animals attack you on sight from then on? Did you really want to know what your malicious DM was waiting to spring on you, should you 'accidently-on-purpose' step on your unwanted rat familiar?


Jim said...

In addition to the quote you shared, the rule where a MU would permanently lose double the number of the familiar's HPs should it be killed *might* be lethal to the wizard at low level.

JB said...

This is the kind of crazy, abstract rule that makes me want to play Old School games. I like it!

Aaron E. Steele said...

I like both the imprecision of the DMG rule, and the punishment meted out for failing to protect (or even more heinous, killing) your familiar.

One of the things that makes D&D so much fun is figuring out the game mechanics from clues that the DM drops. If you have not already done so, you must check out Tavis' recent post on whether or not to reveal to-hit numbers. I think it reveals an important feature of old-school play.