Federation-Apocalypse Session 153a – Crimson Empire

Two dragons... (the gate to the end)

Image by Giampaolo Macorig via Flickr

With the death of the prior Dragon Emperor – Mezzenbian the Destroyer, first Asamet lord of the Dragon Empire (in an insane struggle with some adventurers and a squirrel as the cosmic cycle turned) – the power struggle had seethed for a time. The revelation that Mezzenbian had been mad enough to attempt to destroy the universe – rather than merely exploiting the realm for his the good of himself, his offspring, and his clan (in that order) – had brought an abrupt end to five thousand years of tradition. The rule of the eldest and strongest had worked well throughout the reign of the Metallic Dragons, but it had nearly destroyed the realm within forty years of the ascent of the Chromatics – and there were still more than nine hundred years of red dragon rule to come, with the other Chromatics to rule in their turns.

Politics had come into play – the ruthless, cutthroat, chaotic evil politics of red dragons to be sure, but politics nonetheless. The candidates had been forced to gather support, to reassure other elders with evidence of their sanity, and to struggle for the job.

Finnmacaurol of the Bloodfire, Lord of Valendia, was not quite at the peak of draconic power – but he was clever and manipulative, and had claimed the prize. Still, the plots of dragons were slow and deadly; even now, after several years upon the golden throne, he faced schemes and threats – not least from amongst the sons of the prior emperor, far too many of which had notions of succeeding their parent, simply because he foolish, antlike, swarming humans often foolishly conducted their affairs in such a fashion.

He had disposed of those of Mezzenbian’s children who had – foolishly – not yet left the harem within hours of his ascension to the throne.

Soon afterwards, he had launched a search for those who were still young enough to make trouble unwisely – and were thus of so little consequence that no one else of any importance would object to his moving against them. The imperial gate network – as limited as it was – had been very useful in finding them, and they made fine harem guards. Their protests at that decree, and their screams as it was implemented, had been quite amusing – and that was all that had been important about them!

He still wondered a bit how the Gold Dragon Clan had come to have custody of more than a dozen of them, but they had obeyed the law after a bit of legalistic stalling (knowing them, just to make a point of the fact that they didn’t like him, as if that wasn’t utterly obvious), and had quite recently turned in a dozen or so who were in their custody. They, in fact, were still awaiting his pleasure in the cells.

There were still some unaccounted for however…

  • At least a dozen had been confirmed to have fled outside the imperial borders
  • Twenty or so are were in hiding – according to rumors, gathering support for attempts to seize the throne. They, of course, were doubtless pawns of some elder opponent.
  • At least five had vanished into the territory of a young adult red named Ailill – and no further information was available? What were his agents slipping?
  • Half a dozen were believed to be in hiding with the chaotic good metallics, at least some of whom doubtless meant to use them in plots against him.

Hm… According to one report there were nearly fifty who had originally been presumed slain in the destruction of one of Mezzenbian’s villas during an assassination attempt on him – but who now seemed to have been somehow scooped up and bonded to service by a ridiculously powerful group of adventurers.

Bound to a human? Humans were clever, but that would require an incredible amount of magical or psionic control… And fifty of them?

Hm… His predecessor had let that group buy an imperial battle-cruiser and crew to go renegade dragon-hunting in – and, according to the reports, their dragon-collection was being used as… harem attendants, pets, and personal servants.

Well, at least they apparently knew how to handle them properly. He would have to get a full report on a group of adventurers of such power however – and on their supposed association with the transformation-wave that had swept over the empire and supposed ability to teleport straight through the shields of the old imperial palace. Wait a moment… The report contained a series of notes about a squirrel? What was that supposed to be about? He made a note to have the editor thoroughly whipped unless he had a VERY good explanation for wasting his time with notes on familiars!

He didn’t like that note about someone teleporting through the imperial shields though! They were supposed to be virtually impenetrable!

Yes, the shields had been reinforced since, at least if he could trust the drow magi who’d done it. They were some of the best secret police mages though… Finnmacaurol had one of his personal, blood-linked mages double check anyway. Those were almost assuredly loyal! They were all far past their normal lifespans, and were only being sustained by their bonds with him. If he died, they would die with him… If only he could support more of them! There were never enough truly loyal agents for all the things that needed to be checked and done!

[According to his pet mages later report, the shields did, indeed, look good – but they had to admit that they really weren’t much past his predecessors shields, if they were any better at all. The imperial standards were the best there were. If someone HAD cracked them, they must have been backdoored by someone inside – unless whoever-it-was had unprecedented powers].

According to this report from his secret service, some of the chaotic good dragons – led by some of the Silvers – were scheming to use the gateway network to jump into the imperial palace.

Of course, that led to considerations of how many of his top officials were trying to use him, and the secret police, as a weapon against their rivals and opponents.

As for this “Ailill”… Something was definitely going on there; he was one of the major architects of the gate network, and was apparently running his own gate network. He was also collecting an incredible number of other youngsters, especially hatchlings – whom the secret police reported he was training very well, but otherwise he was actually… treating them rather kindly. Some sort of sorcerous prodigy apparently, but unaccountably weak when it came to underlings for a red. He could be an imposter of course – that wasn’t too uncommon, and was even allowable if a mortal was powerful and ruthless enough to make it stick – or he might be a good dragon in disguise, setting himself up for a grab at the throne.

Wait, hadn’t there been something about Ailill and a “school” of some sort in an earlier report?

Ah yes; he was the one running a “Testing Service” that claimed to sort out the hatchlings who had a decent shot at success and train them, while processing and training the ones who were headed for slavery with no fuss before sending them back to their parents – and all for a modest share of the resulting hatchling-slaves. Was it possible that it wasn’t just a scam? There were no reports of any problems with the hatchling-slaves that the parents sold or put to work afterwards. Of course, they WERE only hatchling; it wasn’t like they were actually capable of making any real trouble. Even a group of hatchlings was no real menace.

Still, his secret police reported that he was “testing” thousands – or tens of thousands – of young dragons… On checking, he found that there were a few young slave-processed metallics working around the palace even, albeit mostly as toys for his own kids.

A few of which were – unwisely – scheming of course. Some of them ALWAYS did that.

Hm. Perhaps it would be wise to examine one of the Hatchling-toys, and do a little probing for information about Ailill when he retired to the harem for the evening. That might be a bit beneath the Emperor’s station – but who was going to comment? It was his harem, and they were his secret police… Besides, he could always just eat the toy afterwards and say it looked appetizing. Metallic hatchlings did after all.

That gold hatchling did look delicious… and came over most obediently when beckoned, with a surprising minimum of utter terror… It was… very properly submissive and respectful, and rolled over to offer it’s abdomen to his claws, and waited for him to do whatever he wished to do to it.

That was good conditioning!

(Finnmacaurol)  “You were conditioned by Ailill, weren’t you?”

(Hatchling) “Yes Lord.”

Ah, it did have some caution; it was sticking to the minimum responses which gave it some small chance of living – although explanations were obviously available at a word. Still, better to probe its mind directly while asking; any contradictions, shields, or incomplete statements would become apparent that way – and any memories of encountering his predecessors fugitive sons!

(Finnmacaurol) “What can you tell me about him?”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t much. The hatchling and a bunch of its siblings and half-siblings had been sent in for testing by its father, had indeed been run though a lot of automated tests, and had not produced a particular impressive performance by gold standards… Wait, Ailill was actually having automated testing done and adjusting the baselines to match the subspecies being tested? Was it possible that he was actually being FAIR?

That was quite a weight on the “imposter” side of the scales!

So, it had failed the testing without ever meeting Ailill and had been put through slave-processing, most of with was ALSO automated! It had involved… neural reconstruction, imprint-training (apparently rather like the process of turning an animal into a familiar), some sort of neural implants, being (properly) fixed, and rather a lot more. The first bits had been painful – but it had been fairly peaceful after that.

Hm. A hatchling who’d flunked out later on would probably know more – but a quick computer check showed that none of those were on the market. That was bothersome.

Afterwards it had been shipped back to its father, like most of the others he’d sent in for testing, and had been sold, also like most of the others. It knew that successful testers – and at least some of the slaves that Ailill kept – went into more advanced training programs, but it didn’t know much about those. It was actually quite happy with its current status, and accepted it completely. Serving it’s master well as a great pleasure to it. It still wanted to survive of course – but mostly so that it could continue to serve.

That was… dizzying and unprecedented. Unless the blasted thing had shields that could stand up to HIM, it was… actually reliable. It literally lived to serve. Even the most terrorized dragon- slaves normally wanted to escape, to flee the empire, and to grab a territory of their own where they could heal themselves and spawn a brood.

Reliable minions. That would change a LOT in dragon society! And that pleasure benefit… that was so useful that it actually made eating this one a waste of family resources!.. He sent it back to the child that owned it. A good “test” of his own there. Which of his offspring would be bright enough to recognize the benefits of having a genuinely loyal minion?

The hatchling-slave was relieved – both for itself and because it would continue to get to be of service to it’s master.

Hatchling-slaves weren’t really very effective minions of course, but they would grow… He gave the order to acquire more of them for his personal service before it really occurred to him that this “Ailill” was collecting thousands of hatchlings – and might well be giving the same treatment to his defeated challengers. He might already control enough power to turn moving against him in to a major war!

Further checking would be wise before making such a move – but this “Ailill” had just shot up to the top of the priority list!

Well, he could simply send for an advanced student – and apparently the students were allowed out at times, which meant that some had surely been defeated and enslaved outside the school. It would be easy enough to dispatch the secret police to locate and buy one of those – or to simply snatch one.

He opted to take all three routes. Multiple points of view might be valuable – and if was asked to send a student, Ailill would certainly provide one if he knew what was good for him. It might be best to provide a little cover though… Oh, just telling his messenger to say that “The Emperor has received good reports about your program and wants an older student to talk to so that he can  evaluate and possibly make use of it” should be quite good enough.

Gold for cleverness, Red for a matching evil viewpoint, Silver for chaos, or White for being too stupid to hold anything back?

White. Definitely white, at least for the official student who had a decent change of going back home. It wouldn’t pick up much of anything he didn’t want it to report.

One white youngster – at least out of the earliest hatchling stages, if not yet adolescent – turned up fairly promptly, and seemed to have had hurried etiquette coaching. He could still take offense of course – it WAS only a child and no one of any importance would care – but it would be best not to unsheathe his talons without a reason.

The juvenile approached and submitted mostly properly… It had, of course, been fitted with a breath weapon neutralizer collar and claw restraints and such by the secret police before the interview – and seemed to be too foolish to realize that it could be rendered unconscious by that collar with a single word from him. It wouldn’t even remember what had happened when it woke up.

For a moment, Finnmacaurol considered just devouring the stupid thing’s mind – but it would almost certainly be BORING. Questions and answers – with a little bit of mind-probing – were probably the way to go.

The ensuing questions – “How does he do the training? What does it provide other than the listed services and curriculum? Are there any unusually nervous red dragons present?” – got him most of the course choices and information, a first-hand view of the classes, a description of the slave-processing systems (the white had no idea how they worked of course, but he was very familiar with the various options and the results, since he’d gotten to pick the options on another hatchling a few times and had gloated a lot), the reds he knew were mostly just other hatchlings, and was aware that graduates were going to be given some concubines and servants and starting money and gear…

He also knew a lot about the general physical layout of the school areas and knew something of the gateway network Ailill was using (which apparently rivaled the imperial network) – and the hunting asteroids and carnival and other recreational services. He thought that quite a few of the previous Emperors young offspring were to be found amongst the slave-staff though, partially due to some sort of old imperial grant…

Oh scorch it! He’d ordered his predecessors hatchlings disposed of, and that was where they’d went! Had HE started this?

General information on the Dragon-School can be found in these log segments:

  1. A Draconic Interlude Part I: Discipline.
  2. A Draconic Interlude Part II: Coursework.
  3. A Draconic Interlude Part III: Academy.

Still… that was a ridiculously extensive collection of graduation benefits and resources for a young red. Either the boy had been a gatemaster for decades, and had been using his talents to run a trading empire (which was just barely possible), he was getting massive support from one or more of the other families, or he’d defeated an enormous number of challengers under various local ID’s and was using their resources – or more than one of those.

Just as annoyingly, the boy was still in the adolescent age bracket, and thus could get away with defying a minor summons… Youngsters in that age were traditionally allowed to sort things out by themselves, so that the strong would survive, and to be crazy enough to defy all authority in any case. Given the strain that he was already placing on tradition, by collecitng his predecessors offspring it would risk unsettling his rule to try to break any more of them. It would look like he was starting to go after ANYONE else who had collected a little power or become prominent – and that would unsettle the coalition that had put him on the throne.

Hm. That was about all the white seemed to know… He used the knockout word and sent it back with some memories of an interview about the school with a functionary – possibly because “the emperor” was considering having some of his own, more annoying, children processed – since Ailill offered that service as well. Even if the information was already public knowledge, it was quite reasonable for the Emperor to demand a personal dragon courier when he wanted to know something…

This Ailill did seem to have some style though!

At a guess, his predecessor would have called out the imperial legions and stormed the school! After all, who knew what Ailill might be up to in there, training a reliable force of who-knew-how-many young dragons!

Of course, that would be quite ridiculous. Something like this needed to be controlled, not destroyed. After all, perfectly conditioned servants meant perfectly conditioned potential spies, janissaries, and assassins!

He would pay this “school” a visit! He gave orders to gather the retinue and ready the imperial battlecarrier and escorts!

Ancient History II – More Demi-Human Level Limits Responses

Concept artwork of Jabba the Hutt for Return o...

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First up for today, it’s another lengthy article response – again by Migo on demi-human level limits.

For those interested in the topic, but who have found this article first, here are some links:

So instead what we have in either case, is even in the 80s, once the game was out of Gary’s control, the level limits got fixed. And I maintain that no thought was put into them, particularly in 1st Edition. When I first looked through OSRIC I thought it was in error. Elves having Wizard be their highest level class makes sense, Thief just doesn’t. Half-Orc was the only one that ended up making sense since it got Assassin instead. Putting thought into it would have at least had the level limits make sense internally, if not in comparison to humans.

Unfortunately, disagreeing with the logic or conclusion, doesn’t mean that no thought was put into something. The logic you’re looking for there is very simple: In first edition, thieves eventually got high skill levels in a short list of thieving skills – and nothing much else. The assumption underlying demihumans getting unlimited advancement as thieves was that becoming a skilled thief did not require a humans special ability to exceed natural limits.

Secondarily, you’re assuming that your personal biases are universal. Why should “Wizard” (actually Magic User in the editions we’re talking about) be an elves strongest aptitude? You can’t argue “realism” about a creature that never actually existed. You can’t argue Tolkien; all of his “Wizards” were actually angelic creatures disguised as humans. Classical European elves were never spellcasters, they used inherent powers of glamour and enchantment. Germanic elves were crafters, and were hard to tell apart from dwarves. Australian aborigines, Amerindians, and many other cultures all had their own notions of what elves and elf-like creatures were like – and none of them matched what they’re like in AD&D.

I can’t think of a single example of a traditional elf, and not many elves in fantasy literature beyond the stuff that’s directly derived from D&D, who fiddles around with spellbooks and learns specific spells. For many traditional elves, some sort of vague psychic powers fits them a lot better. In other traditions, thieving abilities fit a lot better. In still others, they should be bodiless energy beings projecting an illusion of solidity through mysterious forces.

Your argument here boils down to “If I’d written this, I would have written up this species differently!” – which may be true, but is still the same as arguing that “Jabba the Hutt should be a lot more mobile, have differently colored skin, and have eight tentacles like an octopus!”. You didn’t write it, and the people who did write it are entitled to put their own ideas into it.

“Here I’m afraid you’re mixing third edition mechanics into an examination of what demi-human level limits were about in earlier editions.”

Nope, and I’m not sure what reading error you made to come to that conclusion.

It’s very simple; your description of what “multiclassing” would accomplish conforms to third edition principles and not to how it worked in first and second edition. Since mechanics of older editions are the topic of discussion, this indicates either (1) confusion about those mechanics (which is reasonable enough when you’re discussing an edition which is long out of print), or (2) poor wording resulting in a communications failure. The presumption of communications failure leaves no way of answering, since I then have no way of knowing what you’re trying to say, Ergo, I can only presume that you said what you meant. Since you indicate that the confusion is not in the mechanics, would you care to supply some examples of what you did mean and how it was supposed to work?

“First, and most obvious, this article is about why demihuman level limits were in older editions in the first place, what they were intended to do, and whether or not they accomplished it”

They were in there because Gary couldn’t think of anything better. They never accomplished it anyway, because either nobody hit those levels because the campaign stopped well before 9th level or they just decided to throw them out. For them to accomplish anything, they’d need to have been used, rather than just percolating in Gary’s head. Nobody liked it, everyone thought it was stupid. The BECMI line axed it. 3rd ed axed it. No other RPG made ever decided to include it. Nobody misses it. It didn’t accomplish anything it set out to do, particularly with module writers throwing in their Mary Sues who broke the rules anyway.

This segment contains quite a few fairly basic errors – enough so that it needs to be addressed pretty much one sentence at a time.

They were in there because Gary couldn’t think of anything better.

As pointed out in the initial article, they worked perfectly. Your basic error here is the presumption that demi-human level limits were necessarily directed at player characters. Level limits existed to justify the setting – which was supposed to be a world that existed long before the player characters appeared on the stage and would presumably continue long after they were all dead. That’s also why monsters had notes on their ecological roles and there were some basic attempts at explaining how magic worked; it was all so that the setting made a reasonable amount of sense.

They never accomplished it anyway, because either nobody hit those levels because the campaign stopped well before 9th level or they just decided to throw them out. For them to accomplish anything, they’d need to have been used, rather than just percolating in Gary’s head.

This segment, of course, is flatly wrong in several ways. First up, it didn’t matter whether or not player characters ever reached those levels, since the level limits were designed to maintain the setting on a global scale. They meant that there wouldn’t be a swarm of ancient elven archmagi out there to run the world – or player questions as to why there weren’t.

Secondarily, of course, rather a lot of games did go on that long. The highest level I can recall one of the players in my campaigns reaching was thirty-eight – although it did take him ten and a half years of weekly sessions. I, personally, played in quite a few campaigns that lasted for two or three years and reached high levels. While the short campaigns that aborted within three or four sessions outnumbered the long ones, the vast majority of actual gaming time was spent in long campaigns simply because one three-year campaign with a hundred and fifty sessions provided a lot more actual gaming time then the twelve sessions involved in three one-month campaigns.

Nobody liked it, everyone thought it was stupid. The BECMI line axed it. 3rd ed axed it.

From direct observation, quite a lot of people thought that it worked just fine. Despite the fact that a LOT of other games came out, first edition AD&D was one of the most important and well-supported games out there from 1978 to 1989. The second edition ran from 1989 to 2003. If a game contained a fundamental flaw that everyone hated, don’t you think that the publishers would have come out with some errata on that flaw over a twenty-five year period?

Now, third edition did “axe it” – along with changing a great deal of the rest of the mechanics. Enough in fact that, as I noted in the first article, nonhuman level limits no longer served much of a purpose. Third edition, of course, had other problems – as would be expected of a system that had a complete redesign.

No other RPG made ever decided to include it.

Hm… Lets see; the Palladium RPG (like many others) set non-human level limits in many classes even more stringently; they were “zero” – and humans dominated in many roles. A lot of games, like Prince Valiant, Pendragon, Elric, Call of Cthulhu, and Empire of the Petal Throne, simply barred nonhumans from play – so that, once again, humans dominated. Rolemaster used varying development costs for their races, which neatly forced nonhumans into their chosen roles by crippling attempts to have them do anything else. Ysgarth used much the same mechanism – but also limited humans. As a result, in the Ysgarth universe, humans did not dominate. Chivalry and Sorcery simply specified the professions of most of the playable nonhumans; humans dominated because the elves were (for unspecified reasons) vanishingly scarce and could not use iron or steel, while dwarves could make magical items, but couldn’t do much else. The Fantasy Trip let humans dominate by making the differences between races cosmetic and letting humans breed faster and thrive in more environments than any other race. Lejentia didn’t restrict anyone – which was why Elves completely dominated that setting. Plenty of other AD&D clones included level limits in one form or another too.

Nobody misses it.

This is closer to being right than anything else in this paragraph. There aren’t many people who miss that rule. I don’t miss it either, although – if I were to start another first edition game at this point – I’d either put in some other reason why humans dominated, run a setting where they didn’t, or include it. There are, however, people out there who do miss it. Otherwise there wouldn’t be rants out there – like the one Editorial0 was responding to that started this discussion – about “why I’m not bringing them back!” – or people who have re-instituted level limits, such as you’d find in James Starlights material over HERE.

Of course, this is also totally irrelevant. The article is about why they were in the rules in the first place – not about whether anyone misses them. Similarly, it was not presenting an argument for bringing them back.

It didn’t accomplish anything it set out to do, particularly with module writers throwing in their Mary Sues who broke the rules anyway.

Really? What it set out to do was to justify having a human-dominated world – in which were set a rather large number of novels, modules, and related products. It did that very nicely. Your argument here is self-contradictory in any case however. If the demi-human level limits had no effect, why would anyone care?

As for module writers… most of the official modules did indeed obey the rules. Would you care to point out some examples from TSR that did not?

“More importantly, however, this solution would not be effective in first edition. An extra “+4 bonus” (to what?)”

Everything that they’re cooperating on. Might be a -4 bonus depending on the action.

Not, in that case, saving throws, individual combats, and similar situations. Still, that would indeed be quite handy. Of course,  if the optional non-weapon proficiencies are in use it would also make humans pre-eminent in pretty much every practical art – neatly contradicting the notions that dwarves are particularly noted for stonework and forging metal, or any similar ideas, If non-weapon proficiencies are not in use – and they were an optional later rule – this has no real effect on the 99.9% of the people in the world who did practical work, rather than going adventuring.

“Would it really be enough to make groups of short-lived, low-level, humans competitive with thousand-year-old level fifty elven fighter-magi who have had time to make plenty of magic items?”

For every high level elf wizard, there’s 50 human arch mages. Even using the optional high campaign rules, there’s really no power difference after level 21, and no way a single elf wizard could match up against a group of humans – spells don’t get more powerful, the only difference is the number of spells being cast, and the elf is still stuck at 1/round.

Here you’re assuming what you want to demonstrate – as well as ignoring the rules. To break that down in detail…

For every high level elf wizard, there’s 50 human arch mages.

Well, lets do some calculations:

  • Becoming an Arch-mage (the official level eighteen title) required 3,000,001 XP.
  • A human Magic-User could expect to start at an average age of 33, and could expect to live to be a little bit past ninety – presuming that he or she didn’t dabble in magic that accelerated aging (which was common and unlimited, as opposed to rare and severely limited life-extending magic). He’d have about sixty years to gain XP in, and would need to gain 137 XP per day to make it to Archmage just before he keeled over and died.
  • A Gray Elf Magic-User could expect to start at an average age of 168 and could expect to live to be 1571 years old on the average. Experience point gains were not pro-rated by level, so such an elf could reasonably expect to continue gaining XP, just as a human would.

Hm. Our Elf would hit level eighteen at age 228 – and spend the next 1343 years as an archmage, gaining still more power. By the time our gray elf dies, he or she can reasonably expect to have 67,156,715 XP – enough to attain level 189.

Now, an awful lot of characters die trying to gain power quickly – but an elf can take it slow and easy. Only leveling at one-tenth the rate of a human to reduce casualties by 90% or more? Our elf will still make archmage by age 768, and will continue to be one for centuries longer.

So a human may be an archmage for a few years – but most human magi died young, simply because most adventurers died young unless they were very cautious (and thus gained experience far more slowly). Elves could afford to be very cautions and still make Archmage. Easily. If we fast track both humans and elves (and assume a lot of elves die young too), it will take a succession of 661 human archmagi in succession – each very old and only lasting a few years – to even come close to matching up to the impact of ONE elven archmage over his or her lifespan.

If the elves take it easy, and increase the number of them who survive to be archmagi by a factor of ten or so, they’ll only be archmagi half as long – so now, while it only takes only 330 human archmagi in succession to match one elven archmage, but now there are ten times as many elven archmagi as a percentage of the elven population.

Even using the optional high campaign rules, there’s really no power difference after level 21, and no way a single elf wizard could match up against a group of humans – spells don’t get more powerful, the only difference is the number of spells being cast, and the elf is still stuck at 1/round.

I’m afraid this is wrong again – and not just because you’re assuming that high-level human wizards would outnumber elven ones. Looking in the first edition Players Handbook, you’ll find that the spells per day tables continued up to level twenty-nine – and there were instructions for extending those tables indefinitely. There were no damage caps on spells either – which meant that a 50’th level elvish archmage could do an average of 62 damage with a single, one-segment casting time, Magic Missile spell. A new human archmage – even presuming a maximum non-fighter constitution bonus – would average 56 HP. Are you really trying to argue that a 25-shot magic missile or a fifty-die fireball is no more powerful than a nine-shot magic missile or an eighteen die fireball?

Oh yes, you died instantly at 0 HP. A magic missile spell took only one segment to cast – and elves had a higher average dexterity score. for higher average initiative bonuses Our human archmage would need a Fireball or Lightning bolt to match the average damage of the 50’th level elven archmages magic misile – presuming that he was facing a young elven archmage of merely level fifty. But wait! That’s another two segments of casting time – in a system that counts segments for simultaneous actions and determines initiative with a d6 – and probably wouldn’t do enough damage to kill our high level elf anyway…

In other words, our elven archmage has a better than 70% chance of instantly killing our human archmage in round one, at the cost of a single first level spell, and without taking damage. If he loses the first rounds initiative, our elven uber-mage will almost certainly live (thanks to having more hit points) to instantly take out the human mage when he gets to act – or to have the same chance again the next round.

What all this tells us is that – in first edition, without the level limits – humans have to be assumed to outnumber the elves by several thousand to one to maintain anything even approaching high-level character parity. Worse, it’s the high-level characters who dominate the system. That’s OK for a generation or two – but over time, more competent elven families will inevitably be slowly edging out the human peasants. Per individual, they’ll make more money, they’ll be able to buy more land, and they’ll be able to defend it better.

Whether we like it or not, Gary Gygax did the math and stuck by his results. Now, you don’t HAVE to do the same – and if you set up a differing game system, you’ll come up with different results – but if you don’t do the math and make sure that the results are reflected in the setting, you’ll find that your world will not stand up to investigative players over long-term play.

What’s that you say?

“Nobody hit those levels because the campaign stopped well before 9th level”?

I’d say that you’ve pretty much proved the point right there. I ran a weekly campaign (with occasional extra sessions) from 1987 through 1999 that only stopped because I had to move to another state – and the occasional internet, phone, and vacation visit update sessions finally ran down about 2008. There were house rules of course; but they were pretty well codified by 1986, before that game even started  – and I made sure that I’d carefully examined how each of those rules would interact with the setting and the rest of the rules before introducing them.

There are lots of other ways to kill a campaign of course, but failing to make sure that your setting makes sense is one of the most deadly long-term campaign poisons out there, and one of the subtlest. It can kill your campaign while you’re still giving every player exactly what they say they want, and you’ll never even know what went wrong. Your game just – somehow – gets a bit less engaging every session until people start doing something else.