Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Mordenkainen, in 1974 and today.
This weekend at the Wizards of the Coast "Stream of Many Eyes" event I got my hands on a copy of Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, which is "built on the writings of the renowned wizard from the world of Greyhawk." That magic-user Mordenkainen, one of Gary Gygax's earliest and most famous characters, has been with us since the start of Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax jealously guarded the statistics of Mordenkainen in later years, but this excerpt from a mid-1974 letter shows his favorite character as he was specified in his prime.
This version of Mordenkainen dates from early July 1974, so about six months after the publication of the original Dungeons & Dragons rules. In May, Gygax had printed a story in Wargamer's Digest relating one of Mordenkainen's less-successful adventures (read the whole article online) which then listed him as a 13th level magic-user, so the statistics from this letter surely reflect the character of that era. Mordenkainen was a seasoned adventurer by this point -- though with his prime requisite Intelligence of 18, Mordenkainen enjoyed 10% experience boost that may have speeded him through the ranks.
Any document from this period will exhibit a few historical curiosities. We may wonder at the absence of Mordenkainen's hit points or armor class, but early character records, including official sheets made by TSR in 1975 and 1976, often did not record those values. Mordenkainen's current experience total is also revealing: the original 1974 rules only give experience thresholds for magic-users up to the 11th level, which is achieved upon accumulating 300,000 experience points. To attain the 9th level rank of Sorceror requires 100,000, and a 10th level Necromancer needs 200,000, so readers might assume that levels above 11th require a further 100,000 each. That would mean getting to 13th level at 500,000, and 14th at 600,000, and so on.
But in this letter Gygax is using a different metric for higher-level Wizards: under what he calls the the "old system," having 772,100 experience would place you at only 13th level. He also alludes to the fact that a new system then in use would require 1,200,000 to reach 14th level. That figure is closer to the one published in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, where a magic-user requires 1,500,000 experience to reach 14th level. Already, half a year into the publishing history of D&D, Gygax had concluded that the original experience requirements were far too generous.
Mordenkainen became a celebrity character thanks to his namesake spells in the Players Handbook like "Mordenkainen's Sword" and "Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound." This led to considerable public demand to know more about Mordenkainen, but Gygax later insisted that Brian Blume dreamed up the depiction of Mordenkainen in the 1980 Rogues Gallery: "The information in the ROGUE'S GALLERY was quite fallacious, made up im many cases when we refused to give Brian our PCs' stats." That 16th-level version reflects Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, with overall higher statistics and a wide array of magic items at his disposal:
Versions of the character proliferated over the years, especially after his further cameos in spell titles in Unearthed Arcana. The version shown in module WG5, Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure, retains the statistics of the Rogues Gallery, with a slight bump to Wisdom:
By the time we look at Mordenkainen in the 2002 Epic Level Handbook, say, the core rules of D&D had shifted so much that comparison is basically pointless. But it is fantastic to see that Mordenkainen is still integral enough to Dungeons & Dragons that his name and his personality infuses new products coming out today!