[Li Po: It's Only a Game] Li Po's Hermitage

Adventure Gaming

This site is still the home of MS-DOS character generators which were very popular during the D&D second edition era.

You can find my third-edition generators by following these links:

D&D Third Edition
Ravenloft Character Generator, Third Edition D&D
d20 Modern Character Generator
d20 Call of Cthulhu Character Generator
AD&D2 Generic Character Generator for MS-DOS.
AD&D2 for very limited machines for MS-DOS.
Alternity Science Fiction Character Generator for MS-DOS
Alternity Spaceship Generator for MS-DOS
Birthright Character Generator for MS-DOS.
Dark Sun 2 Character Generator version 2.3a and documentation for MS-DOS.
Lankhmar Character Generator
Jakandor Character Generator
Planescape Character Generator for MS-DOS.
Psionics Character Generator for MS-DOS.
Red Death Character Generator for MS-DOS.
Skills & Powers Character Generator for MS-DOS; now version 4.20.

  • Welcome from Li Po.
  • Getting Started Finding a campaign.
  • Skills and Powers Character generator.
  • Dark Sun 2 version 2.3a Character generator.
  • More Software by other people.
  • The Sources of Heroic Fantasy for your browsing pleasure.
  • Heroic Fantasy on the Internet Mostly other AD&D sites.
  • AD&D and the Religious Right
  • Illusion spells in AD&D
  • Avoiding Character Deaths
  • Planescape
  • Cantrips

  • Li Po's House Rules Perhaps you'll find someting here that you can use for your own adventurers.



    Li Po is a peace-loving human cleric of the "Kwan Yin" sect. He admires the classic Chinese poet ("Li Po" or LiBei) whose name he borrowed, and respects the rights of all artists and writers. For a time, he was an adventurer. He developed the "Speak with Dragons" spell which has been reprinted in the Priest's Spell Compendium. He has devoted his later life to the arts of healing, scholarship, and promoting peace and understanding.

    Li Po offers a free token of his esteem for those who produce, and those who play, his favorite adventure game, "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons". Help yourself to any the following character generators. Each will produce a full character sheet, with extensive personal characterization, statistics, combat tables, and saving throws for every level. You and your group will be able to begin playing TSR's fantastic gaming system without delay or tedious paperwork.

    Li Po and his friends will appreciate your comments, and want to hear about any problems you find. Li Po has decided not to make the source code available, for fear of misuse. (There have been several requests, "I want to make evil player characters.")

    In today's secular, cynical era, TSR's publications offer a glorious vision of heroic goodness. Li Po wants you to enjoy them as much as he has. Happy adventuring!

    My programs are constantly being adjusted.

    I write DOS programs which must be run from directories with no more than 8 letters in their names. (Thanks for the discovery J.A.!)

    Or E-mail me for the current versions, specifying which one(s) you want: Classic AD&D, Classic Psionics, Planescape, Red Death ("Gothic Earth"; presently undergoing debugging, will you help?), Dark Sun, Skills and Powers, Lankhmar, or Birthright. Happy adventuring!

    Finding a Campaign

    Li Po wants everybody to enjoy adventure gaming as much as he and his friends have. The site receives several requests each month, all asking "How do I find a campaign near my home?"

    There are some on-line lists of campaigns by geographic location. There are also multi-user dungeons. The venerable site webrpg.com , founded at the same time as this page, finally closed in 2009.

    Another approach is to post notes on the bulletin boards of shops where TSR's products are sold. This usually gets results.

    Best of all, though, is to begin your own campaign with a few like-minded friends, then post for new members.

    In choosing a campaign, keep a few things in mind. The best ones are low-lethality, with player characters being hassled and embarrassed but not killed. If player characters are fighting among themselves, it's a sure sign that the DM isn't doing much of a job of creating interesting opponents. Campaigns with evil player-characters are uncommon, and are best avoided. One of the reliable signs of a good campaign is that the player characters eagerly share their magic items and property with one another.

    May you be successful in your quest for a good gaming group. The pleasure you'll find there is second only to the joy of doing good in the real world. [Skills & Powers]

    The program generates, saves, and offers to print, a complete PC or NPC sheet under the new "Skills and Powers" rules. It includes all the new character generation options, including statistics, subabilities, complete awarding and accounting of character points, racial and class abilities (including priestly focus as per "The Complete Priest's Handbook"), traits, weapons proficiencies, specializations, and masteries, non-weapon proficiencies, and even personal appearance and idiosyncrasies. Of course, there are also complete weapon and combat tables for all levels, handy notes on the new combat bonuses and penalties, saving throws, and even lists of recommended equipment. You can add up to five of your own definfed character races. You can choose your own milieu, from Stone Age to Victorian, and even Planescape. Finally, the psionics system has been integrated into the "Skills and Powers" system.

    In response to your suggestions, it is now possible to choose a variety of possible "let's suspend this rule" options. And you can switch on or off the controversial "unicorn status" question, which has pleased some adult gamers and scandalized others.

    here for version 4.20.

    Li Po thanks these testers, who helped me with input when "Skills and Powers" was being developed:

    -- Abraxas
    -- Nick Alberts
    -- Kural Antalas
    -- Jason Anthony
    -- Draamel Arahant
    -- Corey Asbruek
    -- Jeff Baker
    -- Ian Ballard
    -- Chris Banks
    -- Jareth the Bard
    -- Mikie Barrett
    -- Robert F. Barrick
    -- Christian Baumgarner
    -- Brad Beattie
    -- Nigel Bennington
    -- Thomas Biache
    -- Andrew Bourne
    -- Jon C. Brekke
    -- Brad Bristow-Stagg
    -- BooGaa Broadsword
    -- Josh Brown
    -- John M. Burton
    -- Sam Cale IV
    -- Theo Carpenter
    -- Sean Chapman
    -- Lionel R Clark
    -- John W. Conner
    -- John Constantine
    -- Gordon Copeland
    -- Thor Crofts
    -- David L. Crooks Jr.
    -- Keith Davies
    -- Jack Davis
    -- James Davis
    -- "Dartmoor" Dave Derrick
    -- Ron "Sid le Garre" Diel
    -- Voigt Deiter
    -- Frank DeLuca
    -- John DeJordy
    -- Marco DePalma
    -- Jean DesRosiers
    -- Kerry Digou
    -- Larry Dillon
    -- Sean Donahue
    -- Chris Dragon
    -- James S. the Drow
    -- Doug Druker
    -- Hector Reinoso Elbers
    -- Ian Ferguson
    -- David Felstead
    -- Rebecca Fenske
    -- Dennis Ferruzzi
    -- Dirk Flame
    -- Lady Fusion
    -- Mark Gagnon
    -- Mike Garth
    -- Caspel Gielen
    -- John Gilbert
    -- Dominik Goebel
    -- Bazil Goldenclaw
    -- Jeff Goodson
    -- Xavier Gonzalez
    -- Jean-Paul Gourdant
    -- Adam Gross
    -- Guza
    -- Holly Habens
    -- David Shackman
    -- Michael Hallett
    -- Rob W. Hamilton
    -- Rolant Harmsen
    -- David Harris II
    -- Alwis Adrian Hohnweg
    -- Eric Janssen
    -- David Johnson
    -- Hvammstanga "Tracker" Jhannesson
    -- Damien Johnson
    -- Chris Jones
    -- Rhys Jones
    -- Josh, son of Lance
    -- Michael Katcher
    -- Amanda Kelly
    -- Kurt Knippel
    -- Jeffrey S. Lange
    -- Rob Lander
    -- Gaute Lindkvist
    -- Matthias Liffers
    -- Robert Liszka
    -- Andreas Lindholm (thanks MUCH!)
    -- Jerod "Fargo" Lodholtz
    -- Paolo Lorenzin
    -- Rocco Matassa
    -- Mad Max
    -- David Mayer-Somer
    -- MegaFlash
    -- Joe Miller
    -- Keith Mervine
    -- Aaron McCall
    -- Nick McRae (idea for the race editor -- thanks Nick!)
    -- Matteo Montanari
    -- Marcel Mravec
    -- Quinton R. Nelson
    -- Neverless (champion bug-finder!)
    -- Robert Nichols
    -- John Niemann
    -- Sean M. Nobles Sr.
    -- Michael Norris
    -- Luis E. Olcese
    -- Marce de Palma
    -- Del Perez
    -- Orion Pobursky
    -- Pronigious
    -- Matt Provot
    -- Mike Putnam
    -- Billy Schmidt
    -- Matt Schroeder
    -- Scott Rehm
    -- Jean-Francois Rysselynck
    -- Christian B. Ritter
    -- Truls Rostrup
    -- "The Rooster"
    -- Sam Rowe
    -- Emanuele Sacchi
    -- Frederic Sauve
    -- Matt Schroeder
    -- Sam Seig
    -- Kevin "Azirith" Smith
    -- Brian Smolar
    -- Bo Solates
    -- Tom Spruill
    -- J R Stevens
    -- Travis Stout
    -- Phil Sirvid (champion bug-finder!)
    -- James E. Tackett
    -- Chris Tonkin
    -- Marc "Nightbreath" Thery
    -- Sam "Sinbad" Thomas
    -- Chris Tomsey
    -- Shadow Walker
    -- Stephane De Man
    -- Brian Toledo
    -- Toni Tolvanen
    -- Kevin M. Tuck
    -- C.J.B. VanDenBerg
    -- Jan Verbruggen
    -- Chris Wachal
    -- William Warren
    -- Richard Watts
    -- Greg Weller
    -- Nathan Dean Wilder
    -- Duane Wysynski
    -- Richard Watts
    -- Stephen Wales
    -- Yoav Yerushalmi
    -- Matt Zahn
    -- Bojan Zimonja

    "Dark Sun 2" Character Generator

    Special thanks to champion Dark Sun bug-finder Jason Hendricks! Also to Knut Iversen, Guthrie Ward, Tony Ribitski, Vincent Roiron, Monica McFadden, Rickard Nilsson, Andreas Lindholm, David Zinn, and Jeremy Reaban.

    If you're unfamiliar with the "Dark Sun" setting, it's an unusual AD&D variant, set on a world where environmental disaster is followed by a gritty struggle for survival. (There are no "gods", and ordinary clergy contract with amoral forces of inorganic matter.) In keeping with the science-fantasy motif, psionics are ubiquitous, while wizardly magic drains the remaining life from the planet. "Law" and "Chaos" do not struggle here, and "Good" and "Evil" are simplified to environmentalism vs. exploitation, with the druids and certain conscientious wizards being the exemplars of goodness. The final product in the line was "The Rise and Fall of a Dragon King", tells the story of the moral struggles and final salvation of one of the milieu's principal bad guys.

    More Software

    Li Po's Links

    Li Po has enjoyed the following sites, and some of the places where they lead in turn....

    The Sources of Heroic Fantasy

    Goethe's "Faust"
    RPG Web -- Shareware character generators
    European medieval, scholarly articles

    Heroic Fantasy on the Internet

    Like many others, I welcome Mr. Gygax's return to his rightful place as the recognized father of AD&D. The happiest features of the game -- alignment, the planes, the most popular monsters, the laughter, the best classic dungeon crawls, and even the idea of role-playing beloved characters -- are largely the products ofs his genius. Li Po is grateful. E-mail Gary at ggygax@genevaonline.com.
    Dan Raynomd -- Christian gamer
    xy2k -- strong good-aligned webmaster
    "Arpeegy Hobbies"; Leonard Dunn's game store. The first AD&D outlet in Utah.
    FUNET FTP site in Finland
    Larry's Rules Modifications
    a Great AD&D Campaign
    Ideas by Jason Kuznicki

    AD&D and the Religious Right

    [Do Justice, Love Mercy, Walk Humbly] The first group are Religious Right attacks on role-playing games. Most people would regard these as the writings of cranks. I did not select them because they are bizarre -- they are simply what I found. I offer them as examples, without apology. I would appreciate hearing about other available links.

    Anyone familiar with propaganda and thought-control will have no trouble recognizing the technique, used with great effectiveness by the old-time communists, the modern-day "health gurus", and others you can name.. Tell the public that everyday things that seem harmless but which they don't fully understand are dangerous and wicked, that they are alone in a horrible world, and that only you can help them find safety and meaning. Claim the moral high-ground, and tell half-truths or even outright lies. When you are caught lying, deny everything and invent counter-accusations. Some people will believe you.

    Teen suicide? As a medical examiner, the one's I've seen have followed (hours to days) failure of a love relationship, or followed (hours) an episode of physical or verbal abuse by a parent or other very special person; less often, the cause is severe chronic illness. A kid who's abused, lacks social skills, or is chronically sick may use fantasy as an escape. Yet the evidence below suggests that role-playing teens are actually less likely to suicide.

    Religious Right claims

    A Primer on Occult Philosophy The writer restates the familiar Religious Right belief in a monolithic occult conspiracy, also including evolution and acupuncture, introduced by Satan to Nimrod at the Tower of Babel.

    New World Order is Being Driven Through Your Children Lists "Dungeons and Dragons" together with "My Little Pony" and "Smurfs" as "definitely anti-God and pro-Satan".

    Same group, "101 Dalmatians" is also satanic

    Logos -- [link is down] obvious untruths. ("In D&D, 'non-human soldiers' are 'expected to rape freely at every chance.'")

    Soc.Religion.Christian archived comments. The first is from a new Christian who repudiates his past as a gamer; he draws uncritically on such sources as Mike Warnke's "Satan Seller", which was exposed as a hoax by his fellow-Evangelicals. The second is a review of Patricia Pulling, which concludes "Lying, however, isn't Christian at all."

    Dungeons and Dragons: Concern for the Christian Mr. & Mrs. Mel Gabler, the ultraconservative Texas textbook critics. They warn that young people may be introduced to world mythology, and may devote excessive time and energy to role-playing. Interestingly, there is no talk of the game leading to suicide or murder. This site also has long essays against Judaism, Islam, Michael Jackson, Mormonism, Hinduism, Carl Sagan, and much more. This is the same Mel Gabler who is quoted in "The Stupidest Things Ever Said": "Too many textbooks and discussions leave children free to make up their minds about things."

    Chick Publications, radical Protestants, once published a comic book called "Dark Dungeons", depicting gamers acquiring supernatural powers and being driven to suicide. The company has also published a collection of young-earth creation-science lies in comic-book form, and an anti-Roman Catholic comic which calls communion "the death cookie". The latter speaks for itself, while young-earth creationism was condemned as dishonest by every U.S. Nobel science laureate in the amicus brief to the Supreme Court in "Edwards". Of course, if you would rather believe a comic book, that is your business.

    Demonbuster (now down) gives only passing reference to Dungeons and Dragons, . The same page claims that Cabbage Patch dolls also teach satanism, and that people who are born out of wedlock "have so much trouble with their church relationships; they are cursed." The site also devotes a full page to diabetes -- "squid-like demons attacking ten parts of your body."

    Debunking the Religious Right claims

    "Death from D&D" as an urban legend is dealt with on several sites. The most famous fatalities never happened.

    James Dallas Egbert -- the most famous "role-playing game fatality" ("Live Action Role Playing", not AD&D); he actually turned up alive a month after he supposedly "died playing AD&D"

    The New Satanic Panic: Link is now down. From the cult awareness and information center. Review of Chick, false memories, and so forth.

    Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance Gives statistics. Finds no basis for the Religious Right claims of murder, suicide, or occult bondage.

    Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance

    Frequently Asked Questions [Link is down.] Full of facts. Reminds readers, among other things, that AD&D fantasy was derived mostly from the Christian fantasy milieus, including Tolkien, and that even Pat Robertson's channel has a Prince Valiant series.

    British Journal of Psychology; link is now down. Studies on the personalities of role-players. No surprise -- we tend to be bright, introverted, "less feminine / less androgynous", "less empathic" males, and to like books and science. (Fits me pretty well anyway...) Link is now defunct.

    Charney Cale's Essay A high-school student's effort.

    All the links about her seem to be down, but perhaps the long essay by J Freeman will reappear. One Patricia Pulling, who claimed that her troubled son's tragedy was caused by his adventure gaming, ran a defamatory campaign which was taken up by certain Christian fundamentalists. Here is a rundown on her credentials and her approach, including the fact that her anecdotes are apparently all fictitious. "At some point, we might begin to assume that game-bashers are not merely deluded, but deliberately dishonest...." No kidding. To be fair, the syndrome of wholesale make-believe is not confined to any of the great world-faiths, or to either "liberals" or "conservatives". Nor does it really dominate any of them, as much as I regret B.A.D.D.'s association with my own modern-Christian outlook. Thanks for the posting. The link is now down.

    "Giving the Devil More than his Due": How people who have alleged massive satanic conspiracies have falsified evidence. Link is now down.

    Also worth reading: J.R.R. Tolkien's essay, On Fairy Stories, available here. Tolkien argued that human beings, created by God in the image of God, naturally create and love secondary worlds. C.S. Lewis found this was true to his own experience, and this was an important step to Mr. Lewis's becoming a Christian. Tolkien's story Leaf by Niggle develops the theme unforgettably.

    Dragonraid Game: Links all seem to be down. This is a Christian fundamentalist derivative of AD&D. The central message of the game is that the world in which you and I live is a sinkhole of filthy evil from which the faithful must remain aloof. Even people who try to live good lives without believing in your theology deserve to die. This is not how I understand the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ (the word "Manichean" comes to mind). Rather than being a "Lightraider" battling wicked unbelievers, most of my battles as a Christian are against my own sin and folly. I also know how much other people like to believe ugly lies in order to feel intellectually and spiritually superior. Nevertheless, I appreciate these fundamentalist brothers' and sisters' appreciation for role-playing, and honor their own quest for goodness and meaning in our all-too-secularized, all-too-frivolous world. Check out "Dragonraid". I think you'll find much here that you will like.

    Gamers for Christ -- news group

    Rules Fixes for Christian Gamers

    One explicitly Christian campaign world has already been presented in Charlemagne's Paladins which hopefully will be reprinted sometime soon. Adventurers could choose from a historical, legendary, or fantasy milieu; I suggested a psionics-based fourth option.

      Historical: All characters are fighters, clerics, or thieves. Clerics have major access to divination, healing, protection, necromancy,and minor access to animals, charm, sun, and weather. The normal alignment of the Western Church is Lawful Good. Celibacy is the norm for clerics; paladins may marry. Clerics on good behavior enjoy the following benefits: Level 3: +2 on all saving throws against wizardly magic; Level 7: once daily, lay-on hands to cure 2 hp/level (self, others) Level 10: automatic success saving vs. enchantment spells. If they sin, they must do penance before regaining full powers.

      Legendary: Paladins, conjurors, diviners, enchanters, and illusionists are also permitted. Wizardly spellcasting takes a long time, and wizards tend to be secretive. Alterations, conjurations, divinations, enchantments, illusions, work. Necromantic and evocation spells do not work; supposedly abjurations do not though there must be some "dispel magic". Clerics now have major access to sun. Paladins have access to divination, healing, necormancy, and protection.

      Fantasy: Rangers are also permitted. Paladins have access to the combat sphere.

    Here are my suggestions.

    • All clerics are good-aligned. An evil act loses all clerical abilities until there is good evidence of contrition. Alignment with respect to Law and Chaos is not so strict. Those inclined to law focus on how creation ultimately makes sense. Those inclined to chaos focus on the freedom given by the gospel and the impossibility of predicting how we will be guided on our individual walks in Christ.
    • Each cleric discovers (i.e., chooses) his/her special ministry. Develop these with your players, using your favorite point-count system. Even better, have characters begin with just the basics -- "Cure Light Wounds", "Detect Evil", "Bless", and "Turn Undead". Preaching is not a spell or a special ability, but must be role-played. Let the clerics gain all the rest of their abilities by adventuring (i.e., "answering calls"). Ask your players how they would like to develop. As in our own world, no two Christian ministries are the same.
    • There are no evil player-characters, and clergy will not tolerate unnecessary cruelty by their associates. In return, player characters cannot become undead or suffer involuntary alignment change.
    • There is never a penalty for going from non-good to good alignment.
    • "Raise dead" is key to the Christian faith, and should succeed automatically and without constitution loss. The originally rolled constitution is the maximum number of times that "Raise Dead" can be performed prior to "a strong call to the contemplatire life" (i.e., mandatory retirement). Cures for petrification, lycanthropy, and so forth are hazardous if performed by a wizard, but safe if performed by a pastor for whom the ability is a special gift.
    • So long as the party is seeking to do good, the community of the faithful will have resources to help them recover from any great misfortunes (level or ability drain, petrificiation, insanity, arcane imprisonment). For example, a cleric who has served a community of miners or masons may cast "Stone to Flesh". A cleric who has focused on a wilderness or animal-welfare ministry probably has the grace to cure lycanthropy. Another possibility is an NPC prayer group, which may be led to assign a quest which, if completed, will result in healing or restoration.
    • Any group of Christians has some diversity of political, scientific, and theological beliefs. But Christians try to be kind to those in genuine need, help one another up when they do wrong, don't claim to be good enough to deserve heaven on their own merits, and don't nurse grudges. And of course no genuine Christian hates any other person because of his or her race.
    • "The gods" are angelic beings, as in Tolkien. They do not grant spells, but may govern realms and even be serve as hosts or guides to the player characters.
    • The fiends seek to corrupt the morals of human beings. On earth, they must restrain their magical abilities and act as (mis-)information brokers, evil counsellors, and suppliers. Even on their own turf, they would much prefer to corrupt the characters rather than simply kill or enslave them.
    • "The outer planes" are perhaps the "intermediate state" that many denominations mention. If it is possible to interact with the dead at all, they will surely remember their natural lives and especially the attitudes they chose. But special grace would be required to obtain useful information or services from them.

    A good Christian campaign will probably give some attention to the holy angels, the foul fiends and the roots of sin. But the main focus will still be on the fun of gaming, which mirrors the goodness of God's creation. As imaginary adventurers in such a campaign, we practice our own real-life roles as creation's guardians and caretakers, and as representatives to those who do not yet know what Christ has done for them.

    I would urge each group to develop their modifications together, as Christian ladies and gentlemen. When this happens, there is the possibility both of coming up with quality rules that can be shared with others, and the likelihood of building friendship, trust, and goodwill.

    Illusion spells in AD&D

    In the original "Players' Handbook", Gary Gygax designed "Phantasmal Force" as a powerful spell which did more than just create images. Those who failed their saving throw, which was allowed only if there was an "attempt to disbelieve", took real physical damage. The abuse potential was obvious, the difficulty in adjudicating this made for great problems, and the whole premise of an illusion doing real damage was implausible even in a world of heroic fantasy.

    Over the years, published adventures almost never treat phantasmal forces, or higher-level versions of this spell, as in the published rules. The "D&D" rules allowed illusions to produce damage which was itself only illusory. The AD&D second edition contained a long section indicating that the whole business was not going to be resolved. The "Complete Wizards' Handbook" was more blunt: the lower-level illusions provide "neither direct protection from damage nor the ability to inflict damage on opponents" (page 16).

    In the literature of heroic fantasy, as in real life, deceptive images fool but do not hurt directly. I spoke with Gary Gygax about this years ago. We had an enjoyable chat, and he was very gracious. Mr. Gygax cited "voodoo death", i.e., a witch-doctor's curse which is followed by the victim's sickening and dying, to justify the idea that tricking the mind can produce physical damage. This was the basis for the original description of "Phantasmal Force."

    As a pathologist who's taken a special interest in the business of mind and body, I remain extremely skeptical. Accounts of "voodoo death" are strongly suggestive of actual criminal poisoning or after-the-fact prophecies rather than "mind over matter", and in any case "voodoo death" always takes hours or days. Contemporary claims fare no better. The abilities of hypnotic subjects and meditators to alter their physiology are singularly unimpressive when examined in the lab. In the 1980's, I debunked the original work on mental imagery as a treatment for cancer -- the published cases in the famous book included nothing that's out-of-the-ordinary, and one patient almost certainly never even had cancer. And by now, I think everybody knows that the "mind-over-matter" claims made for firewalking are a sham, and that the phenomenon takes advantage of little-known phenomena in normal physics.

    A diseased heart is subject to rhythm disturbances under stress, and these can be fatal. A sudden rise in blood pressure, or straining against a closed glottis, can kill a person with the right underlying disease. Stress hormones, notably epinephrine, can produce "catecholamine cardiomyopathy" or acute rhythm disturbances, either of which can kill a person -- a fact which is supposedly known to those who supervise torture in the pariah nations. And cadaveric spasm is an extreme situation in which, as a result of sudden emotional stress, the nerves and hormones allow excessive influx of cations into the heart and muscles, so that rigor mortis itself causes, rather than results from, death. None of these situations is anything like "taking damage from falling into an illusionary pit of spikes" or being burned by the breath of a shadow-monster chimera because you "do not know it is only quasi-real."

    Here is how I handle illusions in my campaign:

  • Pure illusions cannot do damage or cause pain.

  • No phantasmal force, audible glamer, or higher-level version can produce anything that naturally has more hit dice than the caster. A fifth level illusionist can produce five goblins, five army recruits, two gnolls, or an ogre. An illusionist with two hit dice could produce a small fire which (if it were real) would be able to do two dice of damage, as a burning oil-flask.

  • A phantasmal force is silent. A phantasmal force of a bonfire will fool a viewer at a distance. If there's reason to be suspicious, a saving throw (or, better, an intelligence check with a suitable bonus or penalty) will reveal the fakery. There is no need for a save up close, since everybody should notice that the fire produces no sound.

  • The "improved phantasmal force" produces only sound and image. The bonfire will sound real, but very close, there will be no heat or smell, so again the fakery will be obvious.

  • The "spectral force" of a bonfire would be harder to detect. If someone attempted to toast a marshmallow, the illusionist will need to simulate the changes appropriately, which could be a challenge. If anyone steps into the fire, there will be no pain, and the illusion will be revealed.

  • "Shadow monsters" deliver a small amount of damage by their normal, physical attacks only. A shadow red dragon's claws will deliver a light scratch, and its breath will feel hot but will not burn or hurt you. Physical attacks from lesser illusions deliver no damage, and unless the illusionist makes sure the attacks miss, the fakery will be revealed at once.

  • A phantasmal force of a basilisk is excellent for intimidation. A spectral force might be even better, and would require a penalty on the intelligence check to reveal the fakery. A shadow-monster basilisk will deliver a small nip.

  • "Shadow Magic" delivers a small amount of damage, but is used primarily for intimidation, to make the caster appear to be a powerful invoker.

  • A permanent illusion of a bonfire will not respond to anyone throwing water onto it. A complex spell composed of several additional programmed illusions might overcome this problem.

  • "Phantasmal killer" kills by inducing cadaveric spasm, which drops the victim to zero hit points. Resuscitation is allowed if you are using the "minus ten" rule.

  • A "limited wish" makes an illusion real (but dispellable) for the spell duration. A "wish" makes it really real and non- dispellable.

  • In the real world, people simply don't take physical damage, or otherwise have their physical health damaged, by getting attacked by real-looking rubber daggers, getting shot by blanks, from seeing magic shows, or from being fooled by holograms. Used with thought and imagination, the "Phantasmal Force" and its family are the most versatile of magics.

    Follow-up: In the Third Edition of D&D, Li Po's ideas (which were probably commonplace) were pretty much implemented. Shadow monsters have a percentage chance of really having their special attacks work each round.

    Avoiding Character Deaths

    The "Dungeons and Dragons" game family evolved from real-world military simulations to a social and intellectual activity in which players came to indentify with beloved alter-egos. As this happened, both the literal rules and the spirit of the game underwent modifications. First, the "minus ten" rule allowed most players reduced to zero hit points to be resuscitated, as in real combat. "Dragonlance" introduced "obscure deaths", i.e., the body falls into the river, and the player-character is revived somehow a few scenes later. (The penalty for being killed is simply sitting out for some game time.) The "Lankhmar" set explicitly instructs referees to maintain low lethality, with loss of all hit points merely resulting in disability or humiliation.

    The first AD&D "Dungeon Master's Guide" urged referees who might bend other rules to leave intact the "system shock", so that there would always be a risk of permanent death to maintain "the thrill of risking your life." This may be important for some people, and if that's you and your group, it's cool. I'm a skydiver, and we're contemptuous of anyone who talks about "the thrill of risking your life" in the air. I'm also an autopsy pathologist. 'Nuff said?

    Here is how I handle player characters who drop to zero hit points or below:

  • Characters reduced to zero hit points are unconscious, and lose one hit point per round. -10 is death.

  • "Finger of Death", "Death Spell", and so forth reduce victims to zero hit points. Victims disabled or actually killed are still able to be raised.

  • If a character goes to -10 hit points, "Raise Dead", if available, can be attempted in the field, in which case a failed "System Shock" results in loss of all experience points but a successful raising.

  • If a character goes to -10 hit points, the body may be taken back by the rest of the party to be raised by good clerics, for a "contribution". This is always successful.

  • At the referee's option, the body of a character who dies (-10) in the field is taken away (by monsters, falls off the cliff, etc., etc.) and the revived charcter is found later, as in "Dragonlance". DM's creativity or "nobody knows" how it happened.

  • An uncooperative or disliked character who goes to 0 hit points need not get CPR or anything else, and may be left to be eaten by monsters. This encourages characters to be nice to each other. (Another house rule specifies that no player character can harm another under any circumstances; at the most, an uncooperative or enchanted character can be restrained. If the player characters fight among themselves, it's probably because I'm not providing interesting scenarios or conflicts as a referee.)

  • I have omitted the loss of constitution points, but the originally- rolled constitution is the maximum number of times the character can go to -10 hit points before mandatory retirement.

  • The assurance of survival for characters who enjoy their comrades' goodwill incites heroic self-sacrifice rather than craven self-interest. The low-risk environment creates less need for "rules lawyers" or extreme caution, and more overall fun and levity. And as a doctor, I've seen enough death and sadness. I'll do what I can to keep these off my gaming table.

    Play by the rules and act decently, and (like in skydiving) you needn't worry about dying.


    Jon's Planescape Site Out of this world!
    The Belief System Territories -- a contemporary psychic's account of how the dead form communities based on shared attitudes

    Li Po on the Outer Planes (silly graphics)
    The Inner Planes
    Reshaping the Multiverse: Li Po's ideas for Planescape campaigns

    The house rules in my own campaign specify that the referee will not dictate the religious beliefs of any player character. I once argued, in "Dragon", that "the gods" of world mythology have always been personifications of our own ideals and ideologies, as well as comic creatures, figures of fun. It seems to me that this is true from Homer's "Iliad" to our own day.

    In our own world, an organized ministry which specially honors Francis of Assisi might care primarily for the physical needs of the poor. One named for Ignatius Loyola might focus on scholarship and education, a group bearing the name of Maimonides might operate a hospital, a church named for Dwight Moody would focus on the bold proclamation of the gospel, and so forth. Personalities come to stand for ideals and callings, in our own world and the world of fantasy. Real role-playing, like real-life activism, begins with fidelity to ideals of goodness and heroism, not to the far-away personalities themselves.

    TSR's wonderful "Planescape" line has finally made this a reality. The old mythological machinery has been adapted from "Legends and Lore" and "The Manual of the Planes". But the real conflict is among factions which mirror the philosophies and credos of our world. The Guvnurs, like our natural and political scientists, seek to build a better world by understanding nature and passing wise legislation. The Godsfolk, like the Unity sect in my own town as well as many other spiritual traditions, teaches progressive enlightenment through reincarnation. The Hardheads, like our Religious Right when it's honest, want to impose their enlightened code of behavior on all people. The Red Death seeks fair enforcement of justice, punishing the guilty in proportion to the wrong done, and making certain that the innocent are safe. The Ciphers, like popular martial-arts teachings and other disciplines, emphasize action instead of discursive thought. The Signers, like today's New Agers, teach that each of us creates his or her own reality. The Sensates, like yesterday's existentialists and today's sensation-seekers, pack their lives with meaningful experiences. The Takers and the Doomguard recall (respectively) Goethe's Faust and Mephistopheles, the two principal characters in the first modern epic. The Takers believes that being grabby and demanding is good, while the Doomguard want struggles to cease and the universe to burn out. The Xaositects, like the dadaists and absurdists of the early twentieth century, glory in chaos. The Bleakers, perhaps the most typical group in our own world, perform acts of simple kindness for their neighbors a world where there is no ultimate meaning. The Revolutionary League, like the radicals of the sixties, preaches the overthrow of current authority, with no other agenda. The Dustfolk, like today's counterphobic teenage displays, glorify death. The Defiers are enemies of organized religion, but open to the possibility of an unknown, transcendent reality. (As the 115th psalm, my favorite, proclaims: The gods of world mythology are make-believe. The True God whom we praise lives in the highest heaven. And what happens on earth depends on human beings.) The Free League, like today's postmodernists and freethinkers at their best, resist all efforts to impose ideology on others. When personalities and political agenda become more important than beliefs ("Faction War"), the present factions no longer represent fundamental human interpretations of life, and thus are barred from Sigil.

    The conflicts among the factions are played out in the strange city of Sigil, which sits atop the infinitely high spike at the center of the Outlands, the alignment plane of true neutrality. Every window, door, and other portal in this city can serve as a passageway to some other world to anyone knowing the secret of its use.

    "Planescape" clearly derives largely from adult "philosophical" comics, where dark deeds and dark ideologies are drawn out. Above the factons stands the mysterious Lady of Pain. In the "Planescape" mythos, she is the source of all the pain in the multiverse, which is carried by travellers from Sigil to the various worlds. For her, and for the creators of "Planescape", it is pain (of body, of mind, of memory, of spirit) that motivates and gives significance to everything else in life. The Lady of Pain protects Sigil from the incursions of "the gods" of mythology, so that pain will always be more fundamental to human experience that any religous dogma. The immediate inspiration for the Lady of Pain may be Swinburne's poem Dolores, which shocked the Victorian sensitilities of his era. "Pages of Pain", the novel written in the Lady's voice, gives her a possible Greek mythology background. In ancient Greek, pathos, the root of my own discipline of "pathology", covers a range of meanings from "pain" through "suffering" through "the human experience".

    Those of us who believe that the real universe is a far brighter, happier, and holier place than "Planescape"'s might understand this myth in only slightly different terms. Pain as we know it is part of our natural heritage, not something supernatural. But pain is interpreted by different people in different ways. We might see Sigil as the source, not of pain itself, but of our ways of making sense of suffering.

    What are the various ways in which philosophers have dealt with the central fact of pain?

      The Guvnurs look for the laws which explain the world, hoping to learn how to make life less painful.
      The Godsfolk see the pains of life as building us for a higher form of existence.
      The Hardheads want to change human nature for the better, by coercion.
      The Red Death seeks fair retribution.
      The Ciphers don't think, but train so they can act.
      The Signers become self-absorbed.
      The Sensates glory in the richness of experience.
      The Takers seek self-aggrandizement, and are contemptuous of complainers.
      The Doomguard hope for an end.
      The Xaositects decide the universe is absurd.
      The Bleakers are resigned.
      The Revolutionary League blame those in power.
      The Dustfolk seek the peace of death.
      The Defiers seek an unknown transcendent answer.
      The Free League keeps philosophic options open.

    At the conclusion of "Teahouse of the August Moon", the Oriental philosopher-narrator explains, "Pain makes us think, thought makes us wise, wisdom makes life bearable. May the August Moon bring gentle peace." Li Po could not have said it better.

    Sigil's mazes...

    If you had a Java-capable browser, you would play "Sigil's Mazes" here.


    Gary Gygax introduced minor magics for wizards, or "cantrips", into AD&D in the early 1980's. They promoted atmosphere, role-playing, and fun.

    Several people have asked me how these might be handled, and what they might include.

    Officially, the first-level "Cantrip" spell allows the wizard to cast a limited number of these magics daily.

    Cantrips cannot produce tools, disrupt a spellcaster's concentration, cause or heal damage, or exert an effect commensurate with any first-level spell. The duration is generally for the time of concentration.

    It seems reasonable to think that cantrips are the first magics learned by 0-level wizardly apprentices. Therefore, a referee might...

    • ...allow "Cast Cantrips" as a proficiency (base 5, reason and knowledge) for any class, allowing a certain number, perhaps one per level, daily;

    • ...allow any wizard to cast a number of cantrips daily withot memorization, modifying repertoire and number for specialists, and allow the first-level "Cantrip" spell to permit more to be cast;

    • ...allow nastier versions of these cantrips for higher-level casters.

    Abjurations: clean houses, campsites, or clothes, chase away minor vermin, build simple traps, and dispel cantrips (compare levels of casters.)

    Conjurations: summon a mouse, rat, spider, or bee, or the wizard's own pet.

    Divinations: determine time of day, direction faced, or depth underground, most of the time.

    Enchantments: influence a person's mood for one round, make a person sneeze, itch, wink, or yawn, or charm a small animal for a few rounds. Saving throws apply for all of these.

    Illusions: make a two-dimensional illusion, make a puff of colored smoke or a colored light, produce ghostly noises, or briefly and slightly alter the wizard's looks.

    Evocations: make a puff of colored smoke or a colored light, or produce something simple (no tools).

    Necromancy: cover odors, estimate post-mortem interval, preserve food from decay, produce ghostly noises, make a plant wilt, thrive, or bloom, or make hair grow, stop growing, or disappear.

    Alterations: very slightly transform a natural object, slightly and briefly alter another's looks, or change the color of a simple object.

    Fire Magic: cook meals, making a small fingertip flame, make a pretty colored light or a smoke puff, or light and snuff candles and other small fires.

    Air Magic: blow away dirt, make a strong puff of air, and catch simple things blowing in the wind.

    Water Magic: clean and dry clothes, floors, or dishes, wash things quickly, and heat or cool water.

    Earth Magic: remove dirt from clothes or buildings, determine depth underground, and dig and fill ordinary holes.

    Cold Magic: chill a small object, freeze a small amount of watery liquid, maneuver safely and easily on ice, or briefly chill a little, harmless creature.

    "Nothing is stronger than gentleness; nothing is gentler than real strength." -- Francis de Sales.

    Li Po would like to hear from you about links to

    -- stories of contemporary people who have shown real-life heroism in peace or war;

    -- organizations and opportunities for teens and young adults to do genuine good for people in real need.


    New visitors to www.pathguy.com
    reset Jan. 30, 2005:

    In real life, I am a pathologist.

    Dead Rock Stars

    Return to Dr. Friedlander's Home Page

    Travis Morgan -- gym buddy, skydiver, long-term friend -- has a new site to help ordinary folks catch computer misbehavior.


    Try one of Ed's chess-with-a-difference java applets!