Revisiting the Past: Spells — Slow and Haste

Apologies for the longer post today, but I think it’s an important topic for rules design and combat.

Recently we had a group playtest one of our upcoming adventures for Mazes & Perils and Bill, the GM, ran into a few issues. Many of those issues were with spells:

  • Missing duration for Shield, Slow, Protection from Normal Missiles, Sleep
  • The effects of Bestow Curse (reversed Remove Curse)
  • Phantasmal Force damage seems out of whack with a Save vs. Spells

Most of the issues came down to our definitions of those spells. Essentially we need a few pieces of data for each…

  • Duration – how long does the spell last?
  • Range – how far away can the spell be cast?
  • Area of Effect – from the point at which the spell is cast, how wide an area is affected?
  • Spell Effects – what does the spell do, exactly?

Vince recently covered this for the Sleep case and he’s offered some input on the others as well. But I want to to look at another one of the spells Bill noted — Slow.

The Slow Spell

The Slow spell is a reversal of the Haste spell, so I’ll list them both here because they have a similar issue.


  • Level: 3
  • Range: 240’

Any persons within a 30’ radius of the focal point when the spell is cast will move and attack at twice the normal speed. On leaving the area, the Haste will stop and have no further effect. This spell will affect up to 24 persons for 3 turns.


  • Level: 3
  • Range: 240’

Any persons within 30’ of the focal point of the spell are affected, slowed to half their normal speed for movement and attacks. Leaving the radius cancels the effects on that target. The spell can affect up to 24 targets for three turns.

What’s missing?

Duration is missing, though the Area of Effect is listed for both.

If I look back at Dungeons & Dragons Book 1: Men & Magic from Gygax & Arneson, they list this pair as:

  • Slow Spell: A broad-area spell which affects up to 24 creatures in a maximum area of 6” × 12”. Duration: 3 turns. Range: 24”.
  • Haste Spell: This is exactly the opposite of a Slow Spell in effect, but otherwise like it. Note that it will counter its opposite and vice-versa.

My copy of the Holmes Blue Book lists both the Haste Spell and the Slow Spell as 3rd level Magic-User spells, but doesn’t provide a description.

Vince was kind enough to provide an update for the Slow spell duration as “2 rounds + level.” He said that the Holmes Blue Book left some room for interpretation. In our discussion, he said the Holmes book essentially wants us to reference 1e to bridge any gaps. In 1e, the spells are listed as 3 Rounds + level per round and since M&P was made closer to 1e, he uses a mix of Holmes and 1e for the rules. So he dropped the rounds by 1 and there you have it.

It was actually quite illuminating to see how some of those rules came to be. (Delta over at Delta’s D&D Hotspot actually wrote up a long, extremely detailed post about how the Haste spell has changed from edition to edition if you’re interested. It was quite illuminating.)

Interpretation of Effects

That said, the interpretation of the rules is up to the GM and players to decide, so I thought I’d work through my own interpretation of how these spells function.

  • Haste: Any persons within a 30’ radius of the focal point when the spell is cast will move and attack at twice the normal speed. On leaving the area, the Haste will stop and have no further effect. This spell will affect up to 24 persons for 3 turns.
  • Slow: Same as Haste but the effect changes to “slowed to half their normal speed for movement and attacks.”

As a GM, I like the idea that the effects are limited to an area and not a moving target, so if the affected individuals leave the 30′ radius area of effect, they are no longer Slowed or Hasted. I also like the fact that it’s all creatures in the area, which means that any enemies in the area are also granted the effects of the spell.

So this works more effectively for a magic-user casting Slow into a group of enemies than casting Haste upon his allies, at least in a melee combat. I seem to recall a 2e campaign I played in when we had a hasted dwarven fighter who fired a bazillion arrows into an oncoming army, so there are cases where it comes in handy.

Now let’s look at the idea of “move and attack at twice the normal speed” or “slowed to half their normal speed for movement and attacks.”

Speed-wise let’s assume for this example that we have two characters.

  • A magic-user who is unencumbered and moves 240′ per turn exploring or mapping, 2x that moving normally (480′) and 3x that running (720′). (240/480/720)
  • A fighter who is armored in chain mail and moves 120′ per turn exploring or mapping, 2x that normally (240′) and 3x that running (360′).  (120/240/360)

So if our characters were Slowed, they would drop to:

  • Magic-User – 120/240/360
  • Fighter – 60/120/180

And if they were Hasted, they would bump to:

  • Magic-User – 480/960/1440
  • Fighter – 240/480/720

The fun part is that this effect only applies to these characters in a 60′ diameter circle. So sure, they’re insanely fast, but as soon as they leave that circle they’re back to their regular speed. So the speed part of the equation is more a factor for attacks than it is for movement.

Lastly, let’s look at attacks. Each character has one attack per round — ranged, magic, or melee.

I’ve gone both ways on how to run the encounter as far as attacks go. You could go through the whole initiative order and then give any Hasted characters an extra attack or you could just simplify it and give those characters two attacks right away. Let’s say we have our magic-user and fighter and they’re fighting two goblins. Initiative goes in order of Dexterity, so we’ll say the Fighter has a Dex of 16 and the M-U has a Dex of 9. And the Goblins, we’ll assume they have a Dex of 10. They have an edge on our spellcaster. We’ll assume that the M-U has already casted Haste in the last round.

Initiative based on Dexterity would go in the order:

  1. Fighter
  2. Goblin #1
  3. Goblin #2
  4. Magic-User

To simplify things, we’ll assume that because the PCs are Hasted they can attack twice on their turn. The Fighter fires a bow twice, the first goblin fires a bow and the second goblin runs towards the PCs, and the M-U casts a spell or throws a dart and then goes again. Now we’re through the initiative order.

Then we start the next round and go again.

This is all good until the Goblins move into the Haste’s area of effect. Then EVERYBODY gets two attacks until the spell expires…

A Question for the OSR Community

Though Bill has done a great job of finding some of the holes we left in the Mazes & Perils book, I suspect there are others (for instance, he pointed out Slow, but Haste is also an issue).

So my question is this… What guidelines do you use when not only describing Old School spells, but defining them for use in your games? I like leaving things open to interpretation as much as the next game writer, but I don’t think Sleep worked quite the way we wanted it to until Vince revisited it. As we take a look at these older spells, what should we be looking for? Any rough defaults we can use? Or a default philosophy?

Vince’s thoughts are as follows:

  • A 1 minute spell lasts 10 rounds. And that’s actually part of the design philosophy.
  • A 1 Round duration only works this round
  • A 1 Minute duration will probably last most or all of a fight, if you cast it right at the start
  • A 10 Minute to 1 Hour duration is long enough for you to cast while waiting in ambush for a fight, or on your way to a fight, and expect to have it for the whole fight
  • An 8 hour or more duration is enough to cast it at the start of the day and have it all day

In the Slow/Haste case, it’s going to last at least 8 rounds (3 rounds + being at least level 5 to cast a 3rd level spell). That’s pretty much an entire combat if you assume 10 rounds or less to wrap up the majority of battles.

We’ve been having some debates over this, so I’m looking for input!

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.