Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The DMG, Section by Section, Part 8: Character Classes - The Use of Poison by Assassins, Monsters as PCs and Lycanthropy

The Use of Poisons by Assassins

Up until 9th level, Assassins use poison pretty much like everyone else. Once they hit 9th level, however, Assassins can choose to make a study of four aspects of poisons:
  • injected/blood poison
  • ingested poison
  • contact poison and poisons that work both ingested and injected
  • creating poisons and antidotes. 
In order to study poisons, the Assassin must find another Assassin of at least 12th level to study under, paying 2000-8000 gold a week; altogether, these four courses of study may take up to 32 weeks! This course of study allows the Assassin to use instantaneous poisons, poisons that take 1-4 hours to kill a victim and poisons that are administered in multiple doses so that they are undetectable, as well as create blade poisons, which evaporate completely in two days and are only effective for the first two hits. Victims of poison administered by Assassins who have completed this course of study also lose the +1 to their saving throw against poisons that they usually get when poisoned by Assassins (those poisoned by non-Assassins get a +2 to their saves).

If you think that's a lot of payout for little benefit, listen to this: the DM isn't allowed to tell the player about the availability of these options, or even hint at them! I'm extremely curious how often a player came up with the idea of having their name-level Assassin study poisons all on their own (and how often their DMs would accuse them of reading the DMG if they did ask about it!).

Altogether, I'm ambivalent about these extra poison rules; they seem pretty complicated and I partly think Gary may have been doing players a favor by instructing the DM not to tell players about them… on the other hand, why shouldn't an Assassin get to study the advanced levels of his craft, just like Magic Users?

The Monster as a Player Character

I was really disappointed with this section, in which Gary addresses what was apparently a not-uncommon request: running monsters as PCs. Gary declares a few times that, "in most cases [running monsters as PCs] was only thought of as a likely manner of game domination." His antidote for this power-gaming motive for running monsters is to explain the in-game limits monster PCs would face. Monsters would be hunted down if they wondered into a tavern to join an adventuring party, and, besides, "Men are the worst monsters." By that, Gary means that high-level characters are able to challenge even demon princes and demi-gods; high-enough level characters, with no limit to the number of magic items they can possess, leave all monsters behind in terms of the danger they pose to their enemies.

For the DM, Gary also points out that it is difficult enough to create a campaign world that is humanocentric, with the aid of humanocentric literature and science; he states that attempts to create a campaign setting which revolves around, or even is partially based on, a monster's perspective, "is destined to be shallow, incomplete, and totally unsatisfying for all parties concerned unless the creator is a Renaissance Man and all-around universal genius with a decade or two to prepare the game and milieu. Even then, how can such an effort rival one which borrows from the talents of genius and imaginative thinking which come to us from literature?"

To be fair, Gary does allow that some players will want to run monsters out of curiosity and an honest desire to experiment. He suggests letting them do so, confident that they will quickly lose interest in running those monster PCs; he states that monster PCs whose players have lost interest in them make interesting NPCs and can contribute positively to the campaign setting.

I wish Gary hadn't taken this position; I've expressed elsewhere my desire to try running a dragon character from its first age category into maturity, so I won't repeat that here. Who knows? Gary might be right and I might lose interest after trying this out for a bit; I just won't know until I've given it a shot.

Finally, Gary does partially redeem this section in my eyes in a short section in which he specifically addresses the true unattractiveness of dragons as PCs. He states that, "only time and accumulation and retention of great masses of wealth will allow any increase in level (age)." This both provides a mechanism for leveling for dragon PCs - retaining, not spending treasure - and provides an incentive for young dragons to adventure. I will have to give this further thought…


Gary stresses that lycanthropy is supposed to be undesirable in AD&D, something to be cured of rather than some sort of bonus. Lycanthropy in AD&D consists mostly of loss of control; characters have chances to change into their were-form six times a month (full, half, quarter, new, quarter and half moon - I'm not sure if 3/4 moons were left out intentionally or not) with varying chances of being able to have any control over those changes or not. Were-PCs are apt to change if they are hurt badly in combat, arguing with other party members, proximity to creature-summoning magic, etc. Lycanthropy can also cause serious mental anguish in those whose alignments are different from their were-form (which is usually the case, since they usually contracted lycanthropy fighting those of different alignment) as their alignment slowly changes to that of their were-forms. Lycanthropy is especially bad for Paladins, who lose their Paladinhood and are considered, "no longer pure enough for that honored state;" Gary even advises against allowing a redemptive quest for the ex-Paladin! Finally, no XP is gained while in lycanthrope form and there is no such thing as "leveling up:" it is impossible to be a "2nd level Werewolf," for example.

In short, lycanthropy is supposed to be incredibly inconvenient.

Gary also provides multiple cures for lycanthropy; the cheapest and easiest are only efficacious very soon after contracting lycanthropy. The most expensive option is to go to a holy/unholy place and drink holy/unholy water prepared by the clergy there and laced with wolfsbane and belladonna out of a silver chalice for a month or more. I found it puzzling that unholy sites would assist in curing lycanthropy until I realized that some lycanthropes are, I believe, lawful and good-aligned.

Finally Gary gives short profiles of lycanthrope behavior. Werebears fight evil creatures until one or the other is dead, and are likely to attack evil creatures immediately upon encountering them. Wereboars are argumentative and want to be in charge. Wererats are the only type of lycanthrope that can use weapons while in were-form; they volunteer to be at the back of the party marching order if they are in a party. Weretigers are supremely self-interested and have a fondness for cats. Werewolves seldom join adventuring parties, but when they do and are discovered, they tend to wait until the party is in combat and then turn on their comrades.


  1. You have to wonder how Paladins got lycanthropy - they're immune to disease. Was he addressing some odd edge case, or did lycanthropy not count, or what? Both Greyhawk (published earlier) and the Players Handbook (published after) state that paladins are immune to (or "not subject to") disease.

    1. Good point. My guess is that either lycanthropy doesn't technically count as a disease in Gygax's mind, or that it counts as a "magical" disease that Paladins apparently aren't immune to. The former seems more likely to me.

    2. I just chalk it up as one of the many internal inconsistencies in AD&D.

    3. In Second Edition, lycanthropy is described as a curse (2E DMG page 131), which is perhaps what Gary had in mind in the original DMG, since he also mentions the use of the remove curse spell. The 2E DMG also notes that paladins who do bad things under the influence of lycanthropy are at least temporarily fallen from grace.