The Alexandrian

Van Helsing - Peter CushingDH Boggs at Hidden in Shadows has put together an absolutely fascinating bibliographic analysis of the earliest versions of the turn undead ability in D&D.

The short version: Virtually no explanation of the “turn undead” ability was provided in the original edition of D&D. Boggs makes a strong case that the ability was only being used by Arneson’s Blackmoor group in Minneapolis and not being used by Gygax’s Greyhawk group in Lake Geneva. Gygax, therefore, gave the ability short shrift in compiling the 1974 rulebooks; this short shrift, in turn, resulted in people interpreting the ability in a way that was much more powerful than Arneson intended (or the Blackmoor group was experiencing). And the legacy of that power-up is something that the game is still dealing with 5+ editions later.

This is a great example of the “Ur-Game” of D&D, as I described it in my Reactions to OD&D several years ago.

What’s also interesting to me is how closely Boggs’ reconstruction of Arneson’s original rules mirror the house rules for turning that I posted here on the Alexandrian back in 2007. (These rules are still being regularly used in my 3.5 Ptolus campaign. And they’re great: Streamlined resolution paired with a range of effects which is less overpowered and, simultaneously, more interesting in the results it produces.)

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