On Early Tropes, Charm Person

Charm person isn't what it used to be.

In the earliest games, charm person gave the magic user a slave. Fighters, ogres and mages were charmed and sent forward into traps and dangerous situations.

From the Original Dungeons & Dragons text:
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 (Dispell Magic). Range: 12".- [Vol-1, p. 23]
"Completely under the influence of the magic user" with no hit die limit.  Quite powerful indeed. But is this how the spell was used?

"Mordenkainen was my first magic-user PC, as a matter of fact. In a fairly early stage of his adventuring career, Mordenkainen encountered a NPC in a dungeon, used Charm Person, and thus gained an apprentice. Bigby was then only 3rd level. After having him as a flunky for a fair number of adventures, I started playing Bigby as my PC." -Gary Gygax
From Gary's Recollections on ENworld:

Incidentally, I remember reading somewhere that the lone surviving PC from a party was captured by the kobolds(I think) and asked to be taken to the leader. The PC was a mage and had one spell left which happened to be charm person. Upon meeting the leader, he cast the spell, and the kobold leader failed his save miserably. It sounded like the PC befriended the head kobold and started calling the shots after that. What's the current status of that situation?
That is essentially correct. A female magic-user made common cause with the goblin chief after successfully charming him, assisted in arming and equipping the goblin forces, but when more PC parties began to riad the place I determined that she took what was available and beat it. No sense in risking one's life on behalf of goblins for no more than a heap of silver.-Gary Gygax
More from Power Score on Castle Greyhawk:
Charming NPCs in the dungeon to use as henchmen seems to be a pretty common tactic in the dungeon. The heroes were attacked by three fighters in plate mail. They charmed one and were quite pleased to learn he was 5th level, possibly higher level than the PCs themselves. Remember some evil wizards may try to do the same to the heroes. -Power Score
Over at Blog of Holding, Paul talks about Charm Person in a game with Mike Monard.

First of all, Charm Person is a pretty cool spell, as it unlocks a new sort of pokémon-collecting henchmen acquisition system at level 1. You might not get a castle and followers until level 10 or so, but you can, like Mike's level 1 magic-user Lessnard in Gygax's game, pick up a fifth-level fighting man as a bodyguard if he happens to fail his saving throw. In OD&D, Charm Person can be long-lasting or permanent, but Mike emphasized that it didn't do more than the name implied: it made someone your buddy, not your slave. If you didn't treat your new friend fairly, they might not be your willing ally forever.
I mention this because, when we encountered four bandits who tried to shake us down for 100 GP each, our wizard cast Charm Person on their lieutenant. Suddenly the lieutenant was all affability: he consulted with his men and they agreed to take us to "meet the boss." "But aren't we supposed to lead them into an ambush?" asked the dumbest of the bandits.
- Blog of Holding
And of course, endless arguments about what charm person should really be capable of have raged across magazine forums and the internet since the spells inceptions. But it seems pretty clear from the origins of use, that it turns an enemy into a party member. See some erudite discussion here at Knights and Knaves, or over here at Delta's D&D blog.

Hack & Slash 


  1. This was an oft-nerfed spell in many OS games in which I participated, for all of the reasons listed.

  2. My Sunday group charms our way into henchmen all the time. Of course, we've also nearly had two party wipes resulting from trying to charm someone who was too powerful...

  3. Personally, I'm in favor of a more versatile Charm Person as long as the DM has a clear understanding of what it does. I don't play the game with a$$holes, so if a player tries to do something that is technically allowed by the rules but isn't in the spirit of the game I'll typically say, "Hey, I don't think that's the intention here." and then my non-a$$hole friend will be like, "Oh. Okay. I'll think of something else then." Maybe I've just been blessed with awesome players, though.


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