"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sleep spell in Moldvay

The Sleep spell is one of D&D's iconic spells even though it wasn't in the original 3 little brown books. The Sleep spell in Moldvay reads:

Later in the Basic rulebook there is an example combat where the sleep spell is used by the venerable Silverleaf (and alas, the namesake Black Dougal is already dead at this point).

At the beginning of the illustrated encounter, "He quickly warns the others that he may have to use his sleep spell."

After the Reaction Rolls are made:

Interesting that it does say, "making sure that they do not get caught in the spell's area of effect" and then not giving an area of effect under the spell description.

Honestly, I don't remember how I ruled this back in the day but now I let the player pick a point within the spell's range and apply the number of enemy hit dice affected from that point out so long as it doesn't extend past the spell's range. I also allow the spell to only affect enemies.

How do you run the Sleep spell in Moldvay?
1. What is the area of effect?
2. Does it affect allies?


  1. It's in my Men & Magic, so I'd say Sleep's appropriately iconic. I never ruled it the way Moldvay describes, but it's tempting, especially since the LBB version note that the spell "always" affects the full number of targets rolled. So, if you cast sleep on what you think is an ogre and it turns out to have only 1 HD, you wind up taking out at least one of your own party? Kinda cool.

  2. This discussion came up early in my Labyrinth Lord campaign and the solution I used for it was that the spell effects an area 15' radius from the point the spellcaster designates as ground zero, which can be up to 240' away.

    However, when I ran my "Out of the Box" session using pure Moldvay and nothing else, I decided that the spell affects the area directly in front of the spell caster up to 240' away--including allies. So, if the caster wanted to make certain he got only enemies, he had to work his way up to the front ranks of the party before casting the spell. In retrospect, I wish I had used this method for my LL campaign, and I will likely adopt it in future campaigns rather than the "sleep bomb method"

  3. I think I prefer the individually selected targets approach best: the player designates all targets within his visual range, with whom he can make eye contact. Sleep basically becomes a command spell, like hypnotism.

  4. I've always thought sleep seemed like it was a bit *too* good and didn't have any drawbacks... I'm definitely going to start including the FULL 2d8 Hit Dice of creatures getting put to sleep - which could include party members!

  5. I use a point of origin (one target that the caster decides, because it might have 4+1 HD and terminate the spell) and then the spell flows outwards in 20' increments, tagging low hit die critters first, then high hit die critters in the same zone, and if there are still more HD to affect, it flows out another 20', and so on. Effective max range (if everything is over 4+1 HD, for instance) is 240' radius from the centrepoint of the spell.