As if I need to rush out and find new reasons for people to doubt the value of my world, or of me as DM; but I know that other DMs struggle with the particular ruling I had to make last Saturday, so I write this in the hopes that it will be of use to them.
Here is the situation. I don't accept many of the spell descriptions in AD&D as written; many of them, I think, are too weak, many are too strong, and some are simply inadequate for their purpose. For quite a long time now I have been ruling the spell armor from the Unearthed Arcana towards what I believe is the purpose of the spell: to provide mages with some much needed protection, particularly in the lower levels. The spell, for those who are not familiar with it, provides a temporary 8 hp plus 1 hp per level, which depletes upon the mage being hit before the mage's own hit points are affected. The spell also provides an 8 AC, to make hitting the mage more difficult.
I've used the spell for going on twenty years, and have always judged that the 8 AC is really a +2 AC bonus, so that a mage with a 17 dexterity would have an AC of 5. I judge this because it genuinely helps the mage live, and it is in my interest as a DM for players to live.
I've also taken as a long standing rule that there is no specific time limit on the armor spell. This is not the rule according to the book, I'm fairly sure. It probably has a very short time limit. But my mages have appreciated being able to count on the spell through a couple of encounters - when they occur in a string, such as in a dungeon - and so I have more or less handwaved the expiry period.
Or, at least, that's how I've played it until this last weekend.
It was inevitable, I suppose, that someone would take advantage of the generousity, so as to wake up first thing in the morning, memorize the spell forthwith and immediately cast it upon themselves, so that it would last the whole day. It hasn't been a problem in the past because most mages I've played with recognize that the adaptability of the spell, that it can be cast on anyone, suggested that withholding the spell as a possible protection for someone very low on hit points ranked above always and without fail casting it upon themselves. But then, one of the players of my group is very highly selfish in every regard, with personal survival being a high priority. And since that player is also the sort to find the angle in every ruling without fail, the matter did come up the instant that player began to run a mage for the first time in the campaign.
So when the attack occurred Saturday, I was informed by the player that the armor spell had already been cast, that it had been cast that very morning, and that he automatically cast it every morning without fail. It was the first time I had heard about it.
Now, there are a number of ways to rule that. The first and most obvious is to say that, since I hadn't heard about him doing that prior, it couldn't start as a practice until the next morning. I suggested that, and naturally the player stated that it was stated in the past and that I'd made no comment about it.
Every DM knows that half the stuff the players say is usually missed while looking up something in the rules or when answering someone else's question. I have tried to explain to my players that if I make no relevant statement about anything they say - particularly anything that a person would have to know is questionable - then I haven't heard it. If my answer was "yeah yeah, okay, sure," said while not looking directly at the player, that is NOT my absolute final word on the subject. Players have notoriously excellent memories about this sort of DM reply ... but I don't let that dissuade me.
In any case, I am not so generous a DM as to allow a player to automatically gain 8 plus hit points from the spell all day long, every day. I should point out that two others at the table, running older mages in other parts of my campaign, weren't very sanguine about it either.
I argued that whatever the standing policy had been, it wasn't there to be used in that way, and that I would more than happily return to the rule of the book. This brought much anger from the other two mage-playing players, and of course further protesting from the new mage-playing player that "this is how things were always done, I'm just playing the rule better."
Predictable. And I know how this sort of thing affects DMs. The default position is to always argue that the player is being clever, that he or she ought to be awarded for their cleverness and that the rule should not, absolutely should not, be changed. I promise you, no matter how this post ends, there will be someone who posts to reiterate this point as though I never considered it, going on at length about how important it is to reward players for squeezing the last juice out of every prior ruling. There's a good chance the commentor will write this comment pedantically.
But the Law is not an absolute, static truth. The greater point here, the one that the commentor will have failed to consider, even after reading this paragraph, is that the GAME requires more consideration than the player. I have been generous with the armor spell because the players have been discrete about their use of the spell. My neighbor may be in his rights to play music at 119 decibels when the law indicates that anything under 120 is legal, but if he plays it at 119 decibels from 8:01 in the morning non-stop until 9:59 at night, every day without fail, I may have a court-case against him. If he plays the same song over and over again in those hours, I will definitely have a court-case against him. Such is the law. The spirit is more important than the letter. The letter of the law does not provide carte blanche to those who operate inside it. Sometimes, new laws, or new interpretations of the law, are required. We call the judgement a precedent. And considering precedents, their previous implementation and the need for a new implementation, is the substance and core of decision making. Just because the player is clever doesn't mean I am ipso facto required to accept that cleverness. Sorry, tough shit, the player was clever but I don't give a shit. That player, that solitary player, is not the only one playing. Other mages have their say about it, as does the fighter who relies on hit points as a right, as does any other player and the table. And I have my say about it, because I know from experience what fucks up, and does not fuck up, the running of my world.
So the judgment I decided to bring to the spell is that, if the spell is cast and does not get tried in battle within 1 hour of casting, it disperses. But if it gets tried, that is to say that someone attempts to hit the benefactor of the spell, with a real chance of causing damage, than the spell can remain in force until one hour of time in which no occurring threat passes.
If you have to make a decision in the middle of the game, do it. Ignore the fallen, disgruntled look on the player as it goes against him or her. They're just trying to get more than they deserve, and they've only just found out they didn't get it. You're entitled to stop them if you feel the spirit of the world is being challenged.
I will always reward genuine ingenuity. That does not include taking a yard on my generousity when I give an inch.