Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Extent of Charm Person

There has been some debate as of late conserving the 1st level Charm Person spell described in Men & Magic. Opinions range that the spell grants the use complete mind control of the subject to merely placing the charmed person in a position similar to that of a friendly henchman or retainer. What all these arguments seems to miss is a few passages hidden in Monsters & Treasure that give great insight into Charm Person's intent.

First, though, let's look at the spell itself:

Charm Person: This spell applies to all two-legged, generally mammalian figures near to or less than man-size, excluding all monsters in the "Undead" class but including Sprites, Pixies, Nixies, Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Hobgoblins, and Gnolls. If the spell is successful it will cause the charmed entity to come completely under the influence of the Magic-User until such time as the "charm" is dispelled (Dispel Magic). Range 12". (M&M, 23)
 The key word, here, I see is "completely." Completely under the influence, the spell reads. While what exactly that influence entails is unexplained here, it is not partial in any way.

Let us now move on to the potion of human control in Monsters & Treasure:

Human Control: This potion has generally the same effect as a Charm Person spell, but it can effect from 1-12 persons with 3 or fewer Hit Dice, 2-8 with 4-6 Hit Dice, 1-4 with 7-9 Hit Dice, and 1 with 10 or more Hit Dice. Saving Throws are applicable. (M&T, 32)
As you can see, the potion of human control mimics the affect of a Charm Person spell, but allows control of a greater number of persons. In a similar manner, the potion of giant control makes reference to the Charm Monster spell, and the potion of undead control to the Charm Animal spell.

The final bit of clarification comes from the ring of Mammal Control, which reads:

Mammal Control: The ring allows the wearer to control from 3-18 small mammals or from 1-8 large mammals. This does not consider any creatures listed on the Monster Reference Table. Control is complete, even to having the controlled mammals attack the others with it which are not controlled. Range is 6". (M&T, 33)
The question is, really, does the Charm Person spell work like the ring of mammal control, even to the extent of forcing the charmed person to attack its allies? Seeing as Human Control is (basically) the same affect as Charm Person, and Human Control should mimic the general guidelines of Mammal Control, I would say yes, based on my reading of the following passages.

But since others seem to have different opinions on the subject, what am I missing?


  1. What are you missing? AFAIC, the difference in both literal definition and common usage between the words "influence" and "control" is decisive.

    As for the magic item argument:

    Firstly, the phrase "generally the same effect" is far too weak to suggest that they be treated as the same except for cited differences.

    Secondly, permanent items are commonly regarded as more potent than single use stuff like potions and spells, so the fact that control is total with the Ring of Mammal Control suggests nothing about the extent of control offered by a similarly named potion.

    Thirdly (and most importantly, given your argument)... even if a ring was a reliable guide to interpreting a potion, the text of the potion inherits from the spell, not vice versa, so one's ruling on how the spell works would determine the efficacy of the potion... not the reverse.

    Finally, most gamer's opinions on how a vaguely described spell (or rule) should be ruled to function depend on their campaign experience with the questioned article. That's why subsequent editions of the game have been much more specific about the extent of the influence of this particular spell. This provides evidence as to how one might rule if cold-playing the earliest edition.

  2. Ok maybe I didn't specify what I meant, which was what am I missing as far as the text is concerned.

    I'm not terribly interested in later editions with this argument, nor have your cited any instances where permanent items are always more powerful than one-use items. Similarly, what else would you take "generally the same" to mean when followed up by a list of exceptions?

  3. Having complete control to the extent that the controlled individual will attack its allies is probably the easiest way to handle things in play.

    Going purely but the text, however, the clause "even to having the controlled mammals attack the others with it which are not controlled" enlarges the idea of complete control for mammals of animal intelligence, rather than clarifying complete control for Charm Person. For intelligent charmed creatures, I might require a reaction roll to convince them to attack allies or do anything evidently against their self-interest.

    1. I agree with Paul here, and would add that I'm not sure looking at the Ring of Mammal control is useful for elucidating Charm Person. What in the description of the Ring of Mammal Control makes you think it is relevant, other than also being a "control" effect? The Potion of Human Control does explicitly reference Charm Person, so I can see that connection there.

  4. I think what you're missing is the game balance perspective. If you can Charm a 10th level Fighter and tell him to fight for you, it's better than a save-or-die spell because you not only got rid of an enemy but you also gained a powerful ally.

    I would say the Charm Person makes the person a super-loyal henchman. He never rolls loyalty, but might have to roll morale and is susceptible to fear effects. If you order him to do some act which is self-destructive he gets another save. What can you get up to and still not allow a new save?

    "Give me all your valuables and tell me everything about any magic items you have."
    "Tell me about your tribe, its strength and numbers, treasure, anything."
    "Go kill your brother over there."
    "Drink this strength potion (actually you know it's poison)"
    "Hold off that mob of villagers for a few minutes."

    What you can't do:

    "Hold off that dragon for a few minutes."
    "Go jump off that cliff"
    "Drink this strength potion (after discussing with your friends in front of him that it's actually poison)"

    As you see it's not very limited, more a roleplaying thing.

    To compare, the 1st level M-U spell Friends just raises your Charisma by a lot, which has the effect of making it easy to recruit hirelings and keep them as long as the spell lasts at least.

    Then again, I could see the rationale behind making Charm Lv1 work against a person and offer basic loyalty, Charm Lv4 gives basic loyalty from a monster or domination of a person, Charm Lv7 gives domination of a monster or mass domination of persons, Charm Lv9 gives domination of a few monsters or some special area effect over persons (virus charm, long duration, whatever).

    1. Friends is not an OD&D spell though, is it? I think Ian is interested in this purely as an OD&D exercise (he can correct me if I am wrong).

    2. I am, Brendan. What I'm not disinterested in, though, is game balance in the slightest.

      The thing I'm surprise no one brought up, is Hold Person, a spell which I still have no idea what to think of.