“Unseen Servant” is a spell.
When you cast “Unseen Servant,” you create an entity to do your bidding. By “bidding,” mostly what I mean is, “carry your stuff.”
The Unseen Servant can do other things, certainly. You can use it to harmlessly trigger a trap. You can tell it to fetch milk and cookies at midnight. It can do your laundry. Mostly, however, it carries your stuff. Your stuff is heavy, so why not have a magical entity carry it for you?
What it can’t do — anything heroic. If attacked, the entity is dispelled.
Right, so, it can do your laundry, but it can’t fight.
What the hell kind of game is D&D, anyway?
Once upon a time, in the town of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, there was very old gaming system called Chainmail.
Chainmail was a mass-combat game involving miniatures that players could position on a battlefield.
This statical system of probabilities figured the likelihood that one set of game pieces would hit another set of game pieces based on two sets of inputs: the offensive attributes of the attackers and the defensive attributes of the defenders.
With the probabilities figured, a random event — the roll of a fair die or dice — would determine success or failure.
The dice are polyhedron: A tetrahedron for odds from 1 to four; a cube for odds 1 to 6; a octahedron for odds 1 to 8; a trapezohedron for odds 1 to 10; a dodecahedron for odds 1 to 12; and the icosahedron for odds 1 to 20.
For reasons I’ve never fully understood, they settled on a four sided die. An eight or twelve sided die surely would do? Right? That said, I’ve always liked the foot-piercing pyramid that you had to explain to people — “the number that appears on all the visible sides is the what you rolled….” Admittedly, that’s aesthetics not statistics or geometry.
Using this system, provided you had a great deal of patience and an aptitude for math, you could create a battle between two or more medieval armies.
And, “a great deal of math” is no joke. The Chainmail combat system was mind-bogglingly difficult to figure out.
This system became the core combat engine of the original D&D game. While D&D was, at least at first, still as difficult to figure out, it was substantially different in every other important aspect of gameplay.
Chainmail evolved through a number of different game designers from Tactical Studies Rules in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Initially, Chainmail was designed to re-enact Twelfth Century, medieval battles: knights, chivalry, archers, and that sort of thing.
As the game rules evolved, one of the principle designers, Gary Gygax, decided to add magic and mythology to the game: so, now, knights, chivalry, archers, Merlin, and dragons.
This starts to explain where “Unseen Servant” came from. Once magic entered the game, game players started inventing spells. One of them was “Unseen Servant.”
Still, Chainmail is a mass combat game, and one where a guy in a pointy hat casting a fireball makes sense, but cast “Unseen Servant” makes no sense at all (provided any of this is making any sense to you, at this junction).
With the introduction mythology and fantasy, the game evolved radically.
From a game that re-enacted medical combat to games that enacted the stuff of fantasy literature. In that shift, the game became personal.
Players stopped saying “my army does this or that,” and started saying “I do this or that.”
“I swing my morning star at some given monster from a Tolkien novel.”
“I cast Prismatic Spray!” (Don’t ask.)
And, now, “I” carry stuff.
I have armor, weapons, shields, food, a bedroll, a canteen, and so on. In particular, “I” have torches, since “I” can’t see a thing a dungeon without one. “I” have spikes for doors, too, because sometimes “I” have to run away from things on the other side of the door, and “I” don’t want them to get out. If “I” am a thief, “I” have tools to pick locks. If “I” am a Magic User, “I” have wands, scrolls, and a spell book.
Most of all, “I” have treasure.
The whole point of going into a dungeon is to kill the monsters and loot their hoards. It’s not very sophisticated, but as any Disney Dwarf will sing to you, “there ain’t no trick to get rich quick.”
And, all of that stuff, especially the gold, is heavy.
After a while, the game designers at TSR who came up with the incredibly complicated combat system also decided that player characters could only carry a certain amount of stuff. The amount of stuff you could carry would be based on a player’s strength index, which ranges between 3 and 18, as determined by the roll of three six-sided dice (or 3d6, if you are fluent in Nerd).
Magic Users tended to have very low strength, shifting their heft to Wisdom and Intelligence. A wizard doesn’t need to swing a sword any more than an American League pitcher needs to swing a bat. A wizard, however, does need a lot of brains and common sense to call on the elements to materialize a fireball. High intelligence makes a good fireball, but no strength means, “can’t carry a lot of stuff.”
And, so, some early player of Dungeons & Dragons came up with the idea of a spell called “Unseen Servant,” so someone could carry all that stuff that was too heavy for the Magic User to haul around.
“Unseen Servant” is an innovation. It came about because a mass combat system became a fantasy roll-playing game where personal avatars act out scenes inspired by Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and others.
This leads to another major innovation that took Chainmail to become Dungeons & Dragons.
While Chainmail pitted one or more players against each other in a zero-sum game, in Dungeons & Dragons, players teamed up to form a company of adventurers seeking glory and money (mostly money).
The miniatures that were once game pieces became avatars for the players in the game. In Chainmail, you might say something like, “I move my archers into position on this hill….” In D&D, you’d say, “I sneak into the room and I hide in shadows until the patrol passes.”
Individual players now adopted specialized skillsets (and we’ll talk about T-Shaping later), so if you wanted to bonk a monster with a big sword, pick the lock of a treasure chest, spit lightening at an Umber Hulk, or heal an injured party member, you needed four players working together: a fighter, a thief, a magic user, and a cleric.
And, that leads to a third innovation. If all of the players are collaborating to accomplish a common goal, then how does the game deal with the challenges?
If “we” are fighting a Rust Monster (don’t ask) or Gelatinous Cube (really, don’t ask), or a Beholder (seriously, I’m urging you, don’t ask), how is the Rust Monster or Gelatinous Cube or Beholder defending themselves or fighting back?
To enable gameplay, “Dungeons & Dragons,” needed a new role called, the Dungeon Master.
These days, I’ve noticed a number of people referring to this role as the “Game Master.” Now, “Game Master” is probably more accurate, since the role-playing game involves a lot more the skulking around in dungeons.
“Game Master” also has the advantage of being a lot less nerdy than “Dungeon Master,” which is nerdy to eleven.
I, however, am very old and traditional, and I figure if you are playing Dungeons & Dragons, you have accepted the fact that you, also, take nerdy to eleven. It’s a “Dungeon Master” people, accept it.
The Dungeon Master, or DM, has a few key roles to play. As mentioned, the DM plays the “opponents” that the collaborators have to overcome. The DM also creates the setting where the players encounter these challenges. Lastly, the DM helps the players work with the complex rules, keeps the game moving forward, and facilitates player interactions.
Does that sound at all familiar to an Agile Coach?
The DM is a friggin’ Scrum Master.