od&d staves

January 9th, 2013 by paul
This entry is part 9 of 18 in the series New Schooler Reads OD&D

The standout magic items from OD&D are the staves. They seem like they're much more powerful than everything else.

Compare the best magic sword with a Staff of Fireballs:

Magic sword: +3 to hit, +0 to damage (so, 1d6 damage).

Staff of Fireballs: Shoots fireballs that do 8d6 damage (save for half). 8d6 is a lot of damage in a game in which the strongest monsters have 12d6 HP. The Purple Worm is the outlier, with 15 Hit Dice, but it will still die in two hits.

And the Staff of Fireball has 100 CHARGES.

Compare that to the equivalent item, Wand of Fireballs, from 3rd edition: it throws 6d6 fireballs and has 50 charges. Furthermore, in 3rd edition, monsters have d8 Hit Dice, and they have more of them. (For instance, dragons have 5-38 HD instead of 5-12 HD.)

Not only that, the Staff of Power is like a Staff of Fireballs with a bunch of other abilities. The Staff of Wizardry is like a Staff of Power with a bunch of other abilities. Between these 3 items, about 10% of staves have the ability to fire 8-die fireballs. You only have a 2% chance of getting the sword +3.

The Staff of Fireballs family might not even be the most game-changing staves in the game. The staff I'd want is "Staff of Secret Doors and Trap Detection." It has 100% chance of detecting both; it works within 20 feet; and it doesn't have charges. It's operational as long as it's being held. It's SO MUCH better than having a thief in your party, guys.

Traps (and secret doors) are such a major part of OD&D-style dungeon crawling that I can hardly imagine them removed. Imagine a campaign where that entire aspect of the game was thrown away. I think the DM would have to resort to semi-cheating in order to downplay the staff's power: "Well technically the lever that turned you all into insects was a TRICK, not a TRAP." "You detect a trap in the corridor which is THE ONLY WAY OUT OF THE DUNGEON." "I know you can detect secret doors, but the treasure was hidden behind a CONCEALED DOOR."

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6 Responses to “od&d staves”

  1. Mystic Scholar says:

    What can I say?

    Magic Users have it GOOD! ROFL

  2. Tavis says:

    Swords frequently have always-on detection abilities. I didn’t see how the party was ever going to find all the secret doors in Caverns of Thracia, but one of the magic items is a sword (Thirster) that can detect them; it was a beautiful series of revelations when they realized how many they’d passed by along every corridor. At one point there were several such swords in the party.

  3. Al Sander says:

    About a year ago I ran a one-off 1e Tomb of Horrors game in which the players used the random magic item tables to determine the magic items for their characters.

    There were large numbers of magic weapons and armor rolled (as the tables are weighted towards these results), including 4 intelligent magic swords. One sword couldn’t be used for alignment reasons, but between the other three swords the party had access to trap detection, secret door detection and (I think) magic detection.

    Due to personality conflicts between the swords, only 2 could be taken on the adventure at any one time, meaning they could only detect 2 of these 3 things at any particular time, but it made the adventure somewhat easier than it’s reputation would lead you to believe… and it’s likely many 1e parties of a level to play in the adventure would have had one or more items giving such detection abilities.

    It gave me an insight into the tools 1e parties may have had access to that make the apparently killer dungeons of 1e a little bit easier and also the amount of magical abilities the average 1e non-magic using character could have – especially compared to the 3e I was used to.

  4. paul says:

    You’re right, guys, I’ve been underestimating the power of intelligent swords extra powers. Tavis, I’ve never played that module – it looks great. Think I’ll order it.

  5. Michael (Gronan) Mornard says:

    When Robilar explored the bottom level of Castle Greyhawk, his prize was a Staff of Wizardry. Behind a secret door that it took him TWO REAL HOURS to find, but he had “figured out it had to be there.”

    But yeah, a Staff of Wizardry was a Major Award.

  6. Lord Crimson says:

    Oddly enough (or maybe not so oddly), staves got radically “de-charged” in later editions (for instance, Mentzer Expert says staves have 3-30 charges when found while 2nd Ed AD&D specified 1d6+19 charges) — though you were allowed to re-charge them at least as far back as 1st Ed, too, so that might be something of a moot point.

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