Charm Person

I’m running two games of OD&D/Delving Deeper on my Discord server. In the play-by-post game our first Charm Person was successfully cast, and required a ruling on what exactly the effect is.

Our current ruleset is the playtest of Delving Deeper v5, falling back to v4 as necessary (because the v5 rules are somewhat incomplete). For cases where interpretation is required, I tend to consult the text of the original game before falling back to v4.

In the open table game, which is played on a scheduled basis, I sometimes look toward other versions of the game (e.g. supplements or the advanced game), for rules & rulings.

For purposes of Wittermixe (the play-by-post asynchronous game) however, I try to stick to Delving Deeper and the three original rulebooks.

So the question was: what exactly is the effect of the Charm Person spell?

And I should make clear before we go any further that many dungeon masters have ruled on this question in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. This is merely my own ruling based on my own interpretation, and is also an attempt to base a ruling very narrowly on the rules as originally available.

In DDv5, the Charm Person spell “Brings a single man-type who fails to save versus spells completely under the influence of the magic-user” and “lasts until it is dispelled.” This is in line with Men & Magic. DDv4 has some additional text, allowing an extra saving throw if the charmed figure is subjected to “gross abuse or negligence” by the caster.

As stated above, I try to use DDv5 (and the original rules) before I default to v4. In this case, if I am to rule based on v5 (without recourse to v4’s “gross abuse or negligence” clause), I merely have to decide on what “completely under the influence” means. Luckily, the original rules mention Charm Person a few times outside the text of the spell itself, and I found these examples very useful in making my ruling.

It is perhaps a little questionable to apply effects generated by monsters to player-character spells. But in this case the monster descriptions are referencing the spell, and then providing some additional detail. In any case, I take the monster descriptions merely to indicate that the spell’s effect can be quite strong; for the victims of Nixies & Dryads it involves a complete change of lifestyle & allegiance. Beyond that, our specific situation (that of a player-character charming an NPC monster in the dungeon) is covered by the first example.

The section on Non-Player Characters in M&M is actually pretty straight-forward. (Delving Deeper v5 does not yet include a version of this text, so in this case I default to the original booklet.) I’ll quote the entire paragraph from page 12:

Monsters can be lured into service if they are of the same basic alignment as the player-character, or they can be Charmed and thus ordered to serve. Note, however, that the term “monster” includes men found in the dungeons, so in this way some high-level characters can be brought into a character’s service, charisma allowing or through a Charm spell. Some reward must be offered to a monster in order to induce it into service (not just sparing its life, for example). The monster will react, with appropriate pluses or minuses, according to the offer, the referee rolling two six-sided dice and adjusting for charisma

Again, pretty straight-forward, but there is a tricky bit: does “Some reward must be offered”, and the text following, apply in the case of Charm?

My interpretation is that it does not: the spell allows the monster to be “ordered to serve”, thus skipping the offer of reward, the initial reaction check, and moving straight on to determination of loyalty.

So the ruling is that the charmed figure will act as a retainer to the caster, subject to the rules of loyalty, morale, and so forth. The Charm bypasses the initial reaction check & necessity of offering a fee; in this case the monster is considered instantly “hired” & now in service.

The Greyhawk retro-clone Iron Falcon has this lovely text: “This spell makes a humanoid creature regard the caster as its leader”, which I find to be a very good statement of the spirit of the spell as far as I am concerned.

Later supplements & versions of the game added additional saving throws & further stipulations in order to reduce the power of this spell, but to me there isn’t too much of an issue. Loyalty must still be diced for (as described on M&M page 13), and the new retainer’s morale will be subject to all the usual conditions.

In the case of charming monsters of opposing alignment (which the above text makes clear is certainly possible), I think I will waive any harsh penalty at first, relying instead on the caster’s Charisma adjustment to Loyalty. But according to page 13 “Periodic re-checks of loyalty should be made”, and as time goes on & the enscorcelled characters grows to see more clearly the differences in basic world-view & goals between themself & their “leader”, well – trouble may be brewing!

To me, using the retainer rules of loyalty and morale is an elegant way to use existings systems to adjudicate the Charm, and moreover, is well-supported by the text.


Did you enjoy reading this? Drop a tip in the jar!

This page last updated: 2020.07.02