OSR: The Monster Overhaul is the Best RPG of 2023 (according to some people)

According to this list from GeekNative, The Monster Overhaul was the 6th bestselling fantasy RPG on DriveThruRPG in 2023.

That's astonishing, considering the other works on the list! I'm delighted that people are enjoying the book.

I don't run advertisements or manage a marketing campaign for my books. The Monster Overhaul relies on word-of-mouth recommendations and unsolicited reviews. I'm grateful to everyone who's taken the time to recommend the book, talk about it on a podcast, review it on youtube, post about it on whatever forms of social media remain, order it at their local game store, or shout about it from the rooftops. After many years of work, it's amazing to see the book out in the real world, helping GMs everywhere.

Polygon: The best tabletop RPGs we played in 2023

The Monster Overhaul, by Skerples, reimagines not just the monsters, but the very notion of what a bestiary can and should be. The book is divided into 20 categories, each containing 10 critters that hew to a theme. The categories are unusual: There is “Dragons,” of course, but also “Summer” and “A Wizard Did It.” “Summer” monsters include the Froghemoth and Pyromancers. Some of these may sound similar to classic D&D monsters, others are entirely new. Tables galore help build and flesh out encounters. “Summer” has a set of generic swamp hexes; other entries have lairs and dungeons. There is an entire flowchart table for populating a megadungeon. Every page of this book is designed to make the reader think about monsters, how to make them feel new, or to recontextualize them, or to simply subvert player expectations. Like all great RPG supplements, The Monster Overhaul not only offers answers for these questions and more, it also teaches the reader how to continue answering them long after these published tables and suggestions are exhausted. A monstrous achievement that should be on every GM’s shelf.

Cockatrice Nuggets CN230: Best RPG Books of 2023

This might be my favorite release for 2023. I have gotten more use out of this book than most of the things I have bought this year. I have gotten more use out of this book than probably the 5E Monster Manual, and I ran 5E for a long time. This book is not just monsters. [...] The way this book is put together makes a lot of sense to me. The stuff that's in here! Most of these monsters have a lair attached with them. If they don't have a lair they have something else. [...] There is so much good stuff in this book that I keep coming back to it. This is my new monster manual. When I want a monster, I come here first.

-Rich Fraser

 If you're not sure what this book is all about, check out the megapost.


OSR: Rereading OD&D: Normal Men, Hobbitouison, and the Orcian Way

If you want a cleaned-up modernized one-volume OD&D rules set, you have a lot of options these days, but the original texts, without the benefits of decades of polish and revision, are well worth analyzing. 

The previous post has been described as full of "wilful misunderstandings and wilful misreadings" of OD&D. It's not. Well, not completely. It's textual analysis; not what you think the text says, or what you think the text should say, but what it does say. (What the text means is an entirely different and equally perilous question.) It's an analysis that wilfully ignores Chainmail, The Strategic Review, other publications, and decades of analysis, and concentrates solely on the three LBBs.
Stepan Alekseev

Take the issue of magic-users wearing non-magical armour from the previous post. A GM familiar with the fantasy trope of a robed, bearded, and unarmoured wizard might say, "Obviously OD&D Magic-Users shouldn't wear armour." 

A GM who's skimmed the rules might say, "The rules say Magic-Users can't wear mundane armour" and not worry about the grammatical details.

But a close reading of the text suggest that yes, in the rules, Magic-Users in OD&D can wear non-magical armour. Was this intentional or an oversight? Who knows. But it's in the text. And now a GM who's read the rules can say, "That's silly. Magic-Users can't wear armour" or "Perhaps there's a reason the rules let Magic-Users wear mundane armour?"

The rules are not the game. They are tools to create the game. They are not laws or proscriptions. You can (and should!) adjust, interpret, or ignore them. These OD&D examination posts are not advocating for blindly following a non-traditional and/or nonsensical interpretation of the rules; they're an exploration of possible interpretations, overlooked aspects, or amusing incongruities.

If the LBBs were religious texts, there would be wars over whether or not Hobbits could be resurrected. Hobbitiouisian vs Hobbitouison.

Yes, interpreting the ambiguous units in OD&D to allow Magic-Users to create a titanic 10'x100'x240' Wall of Stone is unusual... but it is, just barely, an interpretation supported by the text. Of course, most GMs would entertain the idea for a few seconds, decide "that's silly", and choose the equally supported, probably intended, and far more sensible units, but it's still a valid interpretation that might lead to a very interesting campaign and setting. 

Finally, these articles are not advice, in the same way that saying, "Blood can be used as a substitute for eggs" does not mean, "You should make blood-flavoured cupcakes for your next office party."

Reading Turn Undead

There's not much to read. The image above is everything presented in OD&D. It's one of the most notoriously confusing rules in the booklets. (The most confusing is, of course, what a "turn" is, but that's a different sort of turn.)

The general belief is that the Turn Undead ability arose in the Blackmoor campaign, where we known the cleric was created, so priests could function as vampire hunters. If it is true the turn undead ability was a Twin Cities thing, it would explain why the normally verbose Mr. Gygax said virtually nothing about turn undead in the 3lbb’s.
-DHBoggs, Hidden in the Shadows

The general consensus is that "turned away" was intended by Arneson to mean "held at a set distance from the Cleric" rather than "compelled to flee."

Viy (1967)
By that interpretation, Arneson's Turn Undead functions a bit like Gygax's spell "Protection from Evil".

Protection from Evil: This spell hedges the conjurer round with a magic circle to keep out attacks from enchanted monsters. -Men & Magic

How often it can be used, and what it the ability requires, are up to the GM, as the books provide no guidance. "Once per round..." or "Once per set of undead..." and "Instead of attacking, while brandishing a holy symbol..." are traditional, but they're not suggested by the text (except, arguably, in the Vampire monster entry.)

It is also possible to interpret "Clerics vs. Undead Monsters" and its proximity to the spell tables to mean that whenever a Cleric casts a spell (and at no other time), they make a roll on the table and turn away/destroy nearby undead. 

The rules proposed by Fred Funk make a lot of sense to me, if you're looking to expand OD&D. At low levels, Turn Undead protects the Cleric, not the party.
Additionally, beginning at 7th level, the creatures that are affected, either by a successful roll, or natural talent, give ground at the rate of 5 ft./level of cleric, a radius on the cleric. As an example, when Macduff reaches 7th level, the Skeletons and Zombies that he turns will stay at least 35 ft away from him at all times, and so would a Specter, on a roll of 16 or better. This enables him to extend protection to members of his party. -Fred's World: the Clerical Companion

Misreading "Turn Undead"

It's possible to misread "turn undead" as "turn into an undead creature." This interpretation is not supported by the text, which clearly states "monster turned away," among other clues.

It still happened (though I think it was in AD&D...). It's very silly, but hand-on-heart, it happened. I can't find other stories mentioning it on the internet, but I'm sure it was a relatively common misinterpretation, especially among young and enthusiastic gamers who only read their character sheets and not the rulebooks. "Turn" as in "turned to stone" is more common than the LBB usage of "turn" as "deflect", as in "turn aside" or "turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways."

There's a table of monsters and hit dice corresponding to your Cleric's level. Lycanthropes are in the game. Clerics could be... Thanatothropes?

So a level 6 Cleric (a Bishop) could turn into a Vampire on an 11+, a Spectre on a 9+, a Mummy on a 7+, and Wight or a Wraith automatically, but they'd be destroyed if they tried to transform into a weak undead like a Ghoul, Zombie, or Skeleton. 

Below level 7, Clerics don't have to pick an Alignment (see below). Undead are aligned with Chaos, so presumably a Law or Neutrality Cleric who turns into an Undead creature (by this method, by vampirism, etc.) also changes their alignment to Chaos, but below level 7 this does not necessarily make them an evil Cleric.

Is this a one-time effect, for a set number of rounds, an at-will ability like the Vampire's gaseous/bat form, or until sunrise? Who knows. It's very silly. In OD&D, Lycanthropes don't have any folkloric guidance on when, or even if, they change shape (in contrast with the Vampire entry's detailed rules), so we can't use that as a guide.

Evil Minions and Chaotic Leaders

Note that Clerics of 7th level and greater are either "Law" or "Chaos", and there is a sharp distinction between them. If a Patriarch receiving the above benefits changes sides, all the benefits will immediately be removed! -Men & Magic 
Anti-Clerics: Evil Acolyte, Evil Adept, Shaman, Evil Priest, Evil Curate, Evil
Bishop, Evil Lama, Evil High Priest. -Men & Magic
Character Alignment, Including Various Monsters and Creatures: Before the game begins it is not only necessary to select a role, but it is also necessary to determine what stance the character will take - Law, Netrality, or Chaos. Character types are limited as follows by this alignment  [...] Chaos: Evil High Priest. -Men & Magic

Evil and Chaos are not equivalent in OD&D. Chaos seems to be a theological upgrade to lowercase-e-evil. Presumably you learn about it at a training seminar. Either at 7th level (Lama or Evil Lama) above 7th level (Patriarch or Evil High Priest) (the rules above disagree), a Cleric must pick Law or Chaos, but before then, merely being evil is not a firm commitment to Chaos. Clerics are the only class with built-in alignment-altering moments.

Finger of Death: [...] A Cleric-type may use this spell in a life-or-death situation, but misuse will immediately turn him into an Anti-Cleric.) -Men & Magic

Evil is a very nebulous concept in OD&D. At its core, it seems to be about intent. The GM needs to make a ruling every time.

Detect Evil: A spell to detect evil thought or intent in any creature or evilly enchanted object. Note that poison, for example, is neither good nor evil. -Men & Magic

So Detect Evil wouldn't detect poison in a chalice, but would detect the poisoner. But what if the poisoner was poisoning someone who was going to blow up an orphanage? Discuss.

Stephen Oakley (currently here).

Just Normal Men

Attack/Defense capabilities versus normal men are simply a matter of allowing one roll as a man-type for every hit die, with any bonuses being given to only one of the attacks, i.e. a Troll would attack six times, once with a +3 added to the die roll. (Combat is detailed in Vol. III.) -Monsters & Treasure

On discord, DymeNovelti noted:

Even without Chainmail we can see evidence that the 10th level Lord isn't a "normal man" -- see Book 1 p 19's table saying normal men are first level fighters, and Book 2 calling out leveled bandits etc. as "super-normal types." So trolls would make 6 attacks versus bandits or soldiers, not against a Lord.

This is a very good point. What qualifies as a "normal man" in OD&D?

Normal men equal 1st level fighters. -Men & Magic

BANDITS: Although Bandits are normal men, they will have leaders who are
supernormal fighters, magical types or clerical types. For every 30 bandits there
will be one 4th level Fighting-Man; for every 50 bandits there will be in addition
one 5th or 6th level fighter... -Monsters & Treasure

BERSERKERS: Berserkers are simply men mad with battle-lust. They will have
only Fighting-Men with them as explained in the paragraphs above regarding Ban-
dits. They never check morale. When fighting normal men they add +2 to their
dice score when rolling due to their ferocity. -Monsters & Treasure
NOMADS: These raiders of the deserts or steppes are similar to Bandits as far as
super-normal types and most other characteristics go: -Monsters & Treasure
BUCCANEERS: Buccaneers are water-going Bandits in all respects except com-
position of their force. -Monsters & Treasure

PIRATES: Pirates are the same as Buccaneers except they are aligned with Chaos. -Monsters & Treasure  

By that logic, a 6+3 HD Troll fighting ten hirelings lead by a 5th-level Fighting-Man can either make one attack against the 5th-level Fighting-Man or make six attacks (one with a +3 bonus) against the hirelings. 

(The intention behind these rules becomes a lot clearer if you have access to Chainmail, but for the purposes of this experiment, we don't.)

When Do You Stop Being Normal?

This table, along with the Bandit entry in Monsters & Treasure, suggests that until a Fighter hits level 4 (Hero), they're still a Normal Man. "Hero", for both Bandits and PCs, marks the transition from "disposable meatshield in a uniform" to "character who gets lines in the screenplay or a separate figure in a massed battle wargame", and therefore from "gets shredded by a Troll" to "fights a Troll one-on-one."

It's equally valid to treat the line "Normal men equal 1st level fighters" as the end of the matter. By that logic, a 2nd level fighter is no longer a Normal Man.

One Attack Per Target?

It's possible to interpret the monster HD-based multi-attack rule, and OD&D's vague alternative combat system rules, to suggest that only one attack can be assigned to each target in each round. It's "versus normal men" not "versus a normal man."

Under this interpretation, a Troll fighting four normal men can attack each one once (with one attack getting a +3 bonus), and the two excess attacks being wasted.

The Cusp of Heroism

This is probably crossing the line between analyzing the rules and wilfully misreading the rules, but if:

  • Monsters get one attack roll for every hit die against Normal Men.
  • Monsters can only assign one attack to each Normal Man. 
  • A Swordsman (a level 3 Fighting Man) is equivalent to 3 Normal Men according to the table above.

Then could a Troll assign three of its six attacks to a level 3 Fighting Man?

It would create a very odd difficulty curve, where level 2 and 3 Fighting Men are increasingly vulnerable, but stop being squishy at Level 4. 

It makes very little sense from a game design perspective, but OD&D isn't concerned with fairness or balance in the modern sense. Heroism must be earned. A Swordsman must leap into the fray, take disproportionate risks, stand out from the nameless rabble, and fight terrible foes in unequal combat to rise from the depths of minonhood to the safe plateau of Heroism. 

PCs with Multiple Attacks?

Remember, we don't have access to Chainmail, The Strategic Review, etc. We're stuck with the 3 LBBs. Based on those books alone, do PCs get multiple attacks?

Attack/Defense capabilities versus normal men are simply a matter of allowing one roll as a man-type for every hit die, with any bonuses being given to only one of the attacks, i.e. a Troll would attack six times, once with a +3 added to the die roll. (Combat is detailed in Vol. III.) -Monsters & Treasure

This rule isn't limited to monsters. PCs get hit dice too. Yes, this rule appears in the Monster part of Monsters & Treasure, but so do humans, elves, dwarves, etc.

By that logic, a 6th-level Fighting Man makes 6 attacks against Normal Men or 1 attack against anything else. A level 1 Fighting Man (with 1+1 HD) makes 1 attack with a +1 bonus. Ditto for Clerics, Magic-Users, etc. Do not underestimate a high-level wizard with a dagger!

However, this creates a small problem with the Fighting Capability column.

Fighting Capability: This is a key to use in conjunction with the CHAINMAIL fantasy rule, as modified in various places herein -Men & Magic
Unlike the Fighting Man, the Magic-User and Cleric Fighting Capability columns do not line up 1:1 with their Hit Dice. A 9th level-Magic User (a Sorcerer) has 6+1 Hit Dice, and therefore can make 6 attacks against Normal Men (one with a +1 bonus). But the Fighting Capability column doesn't list "6 men", it lists "Hero+1. From the Fighting Man table, we know that a Hero is equal to four Normal Men, so that's four attacks (one with a +1 bonus).

There is no easy solution. If they're not using Chainmail, the GM needs to decide which column to use (if either).

In any case, Normal Men are in trouble in OD&D. I'm surprised there are any left!

Alexander Mandradjiev

Normal Ghoul Paralysis

GHOULS: As stated in CHAINMAIL for Wights, Ghouls paralize any normal figure they touch, excluding Elves. -Monsters & Treasure

"Normal figure" is not defined anywhere in the LBBs, so it's less of a case of textual analysis and more a case of inventing a ruling. "Figure" is used sparingly in the books, but does crop up in one very relevant entry.

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. -Men & Magic

If you put the emphasis on "normal", then "super-normal types" (i.e. Fighting-Men of level 4 and above, Magic-Users, Clerics, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, and all monsters) are immune to Ghoul paralysis.

If you put the emphasis on "figure", and note that the rule specifically point out that Elves are immune suggests that other creatures that might fall into the Elf category are not immune, then the Charm Person target restrictions make sense.

Kibri model No. 37304,
N-Gauge model of Branzoll Castle
a.k.a Castle Blackmoor

Primordial Silliness in The First Fantasy Campaign

Whimsy is one of the founding principles of D&D. Compared to early games, giant stone walls are practically sensible. Dave Arneson's The First Fantasy Campaign is a rich document for anyone trying to understand Blackmoor and pre-D&D. Here are two of my favourite silly stories. 

I: Super Berries

Due east on the road to Bramwald lies the Super Berry Woods wherein the Berrium Maximus is found. It is a timeless place where all who enter lose track of time. As with the Siren’s call and the island of the Lotus Eaters, there is no desire to leave. If the proper spells are cast ahead of time (each turn you are in the wood, you must make a saving throw vs. Charm Person spells) you can enter and leave normally (even with a saving throw vs. Charm Person each turn you are in the woods will equate with 1-6 turns outside the woods).
The main fruit of these woods is the great Super Berry which are as large as big pumpkins (the whole creation was a result of using some HO/00 scale trees which had great orange fruit on them; since these things were always infesting the board by dropping off, they became Super Berries and were saved - that’s what you do with imagination), and are endowed with Magical properties (the exact nature of which changes with the season of the year, phase of the moon, maturity of the berry, if it is cooked, boiled, dehydrated, sliced, diced, made into juice, wine, soup, mush or eaten raw). Since my players are far from figuring out the details, I will not reveal them here. -The First Fantasy Campaign

There was a tree. It was off a railroad game and it was supposed to be an orange tree, but the oranges were about the size of basketballs in proportion to the people. So he called 'em "Super Berries." So I was able to take the Super Berry and, say you're a fourth-level Magic-User, and you could throw spells and stuff that are for higher people. A fourth-level Magic-User could throw first- or second-level spells, but with a Super Berry, you could go to fourth or fifth or sixth level.

[And this just came out of Dave's head one day?]

Well, part out of Dave's head, and everyone else put in their two cents in, you know that works.

-Pete Gaylord, interviewed in Secrets of Blackmoor.

The Blackmoor magic-system was very different than OD&D's approach, was not well documented, and is poorly understood, even today. It was probably impossible to systematize for publication.

Tim Kirk

II: The Orcian Way

All spelling and grammar is original (in every sense). Append one big [sic].

The first six levels of encounters were prepared in the last two years for convention games, and set up along "Official" D&D lines. The last (7th-9th and the Tunnel Cavern System) are originals used in our game. Additional crazy characters that got into the game over the years have been the Orcian Way and Sir Fang the Vampire. 

The first is a great glowing stairway (with Orc Music, Rule Britannia played backwards!) that goes directly from the 1st level to the 10th level magically, although the players seem to be walking down an endless stairway. Upon entering the stairs, the Orcs, Ghouls, Wraiths, and Balrogs at the bottom are warned of the adventurers approach, and composition. If too strong, the expedition will descend the stairs forever with no apparent way out. If weak enough, the Orcs and Company, will attack and try to take them all prisoner, sacrificing them to a great feast. There are two Balrogs, six Wraiths, 200 Ghouls, 50 Ogres and 750 Orcs waiting at the bottom. They are all that is left of King Funk's Orcs' Grand Army that took Blackmoor.

Should the players ascend the stairway. they will reach the top at about 250 feet where the stairs end in a small room (10' x 10'). In the ceiling of the room is a trap door. When you open the trapdoor, all you can see is sky and what is apparently a small platform 3' x 3' with a one foot wall around it. When the players reach this platform they seemingly (to those in the room) continue on through the trapdoor and vanish out of sight. Actually those that are passing through the trapdoor suddenly find the entire structure (trapdoor. platform. dungeon, etc.) vanishes and they fall towards Blackmoor Bay some 5-100 feet below them. Any rope that is holding them is broken and they hit the water. They must then avoid drowning (I ask them while they are falling what they are doing; if they are in Plate Armour, I give them a 1/10 chance of getting it off in time; other must make a throw less than their Dexterity rating when they are wearing some other Armour). When in the water, there is a one in six that the Great Kraken of the Bay will capture and eat them each turn as they are swimming (generally two throws) to shore. When they reach shore they are destitute by alive.

The entrance to the Orcian Way is marked by a great bronze tablet:

Orcian Way
Orc Public Works
Erected by Funk I
King of All the Orcs
It too, glows in the dark and is inscribed in the Common Tongue. Once you are on the Orcian Way, the only way out is the trapdoor or fighting your way through the Orcs on the 10th level. It has nailed many a party. It's nature is now well known, but it still claims it's victims regularly.

-The First Fantasy Campaign
Tim Kirk

Orc Music

For your listening pleasure, Orc Music: Rule Britannia Played Backwards. To make it more orcish, I've create a second version pitch-shifted it one octave lower

You may need to download the .mp3 files to get them to play; Google Drive doesn't always want to play them in browser.

The result had me in stitches. The presence of "Soron" (Sauron!?) in the reversed music might explain the orcish connection (if Arenson used a reversed record/tape)... or it might be a coincidence. 

Sbyeen seebla
Schanamen namen namen urahsneep
Sneer galdoo vignats der
Vegnatsy groo

Sbyeen seebla
Schanamen namen namen urahsneep
Sneer galdoo vignats der
Vegnatsy groo

Gner snee ya
Shosneyverbraa ya-ah
La lachbromis gostop
La stromis gospe

Veer brosnya
Iquemalock soron
Lamback soron

Veer brosnya
Iquemalock so-o-o-o-ron
Lamback slemback sneegnasy bleh

It's unlikely to be a karaoke hit, but you can sing along at home. The original file, in case people are worried about copyright, is in the public domain. The files I've created are also in the public domain (so feel free to distribute them), although you could make your own in any audio editing program in under a minute.

How did Arneson (or Fred Funk, the player who constructed the Orcian Way) produce this "Orc Music"? The gag doesn't work as well if you just say "Rule Britannia played backwards". It needs the audio accompaniment. A tape recorder or a record player would work... or perhaps, and this is an alarming thought, Arneson learned to sing it backwards. 

Does anyone know? Perhaps I should contact the crew at Secrets of Blackmoor.

Finally we came to an open stairway with circular stairs down which we heard music playing. Richard stumbled down the stairs immediately. The rest of the group halted and tried to decide to follow him or not, Tindell urging them on. As we walked down, we heard the orc national anthem (don't blame me; it's Arneson's dungeon; how could orcs have one nation?) played backwards. This brought a horde of orcs on us from in front.

-Bill Paley, Alarums & Excursions #15, transcribed here.

Obvious Traps

I think that the best trap is usually a known trap, and I've said as much in print.

Some of the traps in classic funhouse dungeons seem like jokes designed for the module’s author and the GM to share, with the poor players left frustrated and baffled. I’ve tried to make Magical Murder Mansion entertaining for everyone; even the deathtraps and surprises should get an joyful “oh no, I can’t believe we walked into that one” from the players. The GM knows it’s a trap. The players know it’s a trap. But someone’s got to open that door. - Magical Murder Mansion

I suspect Arenson's players, when first confronted by a the glowing "Orcian Way" sign, felt the same way. Of course it's a trap. Horrible death is expected. The fun is finding out what sort of horrible death awaits and, if by luck, guile, a half-forgotten inventory item, or fleeing madly in all directions, it can be avoided.

Final Notes

If you have a favourite odd OD&D rule, ruling, or fact, feel free to leave it in the comments.


OSR: Rereading OD&D: Back to the Start

Time to revisit the primordial ooze of the Old-School Renaissance, the original D&D booklets.

While my usual long-term OSR campaigns use the GLOG, for playtests and one-shots I sometimes use a highly mutated version of AD&D. If they were dog breeds, the version of AD&D I use would be a neurotic greyhound with hip dysplasia, the GLOG is an Argentine tegu in a dog costume, and OD&D is a barely domesticated coyote/dog hybrid

I will not explain further.

No One Ever Said It Would Be This Hard

Imagine it's 1974ish. All you have are the three Little Brown Books: Men and Magic, Monsters and Treasure, and Underworld and Wilderness Adventures.

You have no wargaming experience. You have no access to magazines, groups, or official answers. No Chainmail, no Dungeon, no Dragon, no Greyhawk, no Judges Guild, no internet, no nothing. A mysterious robed figure gave you three booklets and some polyhedral dice and vanished in a puff of gedankenexperiment.

Can you run OD&D with the rules as written, without the benefit of errata, context, or decades of new rules?

Yes. Yes you can.

But there are a few edge cases that you may need to resolve along the way.

The Little Brown Books are probably the most thoroughly examined texts in RPG history. I can't claim any of the curious rules below are original discoveries, because they've almost certainly been debated half to death in long-forgotten forums or letters to the editor. They're still amusing, and might be new to a given reader.

The Original Intentions of What Later Became Dungeons and Dragons.

As I see it, Dungeons and Dragons was originally designed as an amusing diversion for the generals and leader-types of a wargaming-scale fantasy army. Imagine plucking a Warhammer character model off the battlefield and sending them on a short excursion, where they could potentially pick up an item to help them in a future battle.

Original D&D in many ways plays like a modern board game in the style of Betrayal at House on the Hill, but where you randomly generate your character instead of picking a card, and where there's a referee to handle situations like "Can I shoot the door open with a shotgun?" or "Can I throw this item down the stairs?"

The moment someone asked "Can a torch burn cobwebs?" or "Can I ask the Goblin about his past?", OD&D stopped being a formulaic exercise in micro-wargaming and became... well, OD&D. It became a shared imaginary world, where the rules and logic of our world applied, instead of a bloodless chess-like abstraction.

As befits a first attempt, OD&D contains many rules oddities that are worth examining. 

Ryan van Dongen

Strictly Orthodox Vampires

Vampires cannot abide the smell of garlic, the face of a mirror, or the sight of cross. They will fall back from these if strongly presented. -Monsters & Treasure

Notably, "holy symbols" are not present in OD&D. You can buy wooden or silver crosses. 10 items (arguably) on the basic equipment list are specifically related to the undead. Your job, or at least the Cleric's job, is to fight Draculas.

Interestingly, while you can buy Belladonna, Wolfsbane, and Holy Water, they don't have specified mechanical effects. Garlic does; holy water doesn't.

Overpowered Elves & Dwarves

Some of the advantages of playing an Elf or a Dwarf are not listed in Men & Magic, but hidden in the Monster section of Monsters & Treasure.

Elves have the ability of moving silently and are nearly invisible in their gray-green cloaks. Elves armed with magical weapons will add one pip to dice rolled to determine damage, i.e. when a hit is scored the possible number of damage points will be 2-7 per die. -Monsters & Treasure

Elven Cloak and Boots: Wearing the Cloak makes a person next to invisible, while
the Boots allow for totally silent movement. -Monsters & Treasure

This suggests, but does not completely confirm, that an Elf PC starts with an Elven Cloak and Boots. The +1 damage when using a magical weapon seems to be clear.

DWARVES: Because of their relatively small size, clumsy monsters like Ogres, Giants and the like will have a difficult time hitting Dwarves, so score only one-half the usual hit points when a hit is scored. -Monsters & Treasure

Note that this only applies to Dwarves, not Hobbits, Gnomes, etc. This is odd, because Gnomes are "slightly smaller than Dwarves." Perhaps their little Gnome legs are just too tiny to allow for quick dodges?

Xiaoyu Wang

All Hobbits Go To Heaven

Raise Dead: The Cleric simply points his finger, utters the incantation, and the dead person is raised. This spell works with men, elves, and dwarves only. -Men & Magic

What about Hobbits?

1. Hobbits don't have souls.
2. Hobbits automatically go to a better world and are reluctant to return.
3. Hobbits are already in heaven.
4. The moment a Hobbit dies, ethereal copyright lawyers from the Tolkien estate swoop in and destroy their soul.
5. Hobbits are a kind of monster that somehow, by tricksiness and cunning, snuck into the character creation rules. Since you can't use Raise Dead on monsters, you can't use it on Hobbits.
6. Anyone crazy enough to play a Hobbit doesn't deserve a second chance.

Fully Armoured Wizards

Magic-Users can, arguably, wear non-magical armour.

Magic-Users: Top level magic-users are perhaps the most powerful characters in the game, but it is a long, hard road to the top, and to begin with they are weak, so survival is often the question, unless fighters protect the low-level magical types until they have worked up. The whole plethora of enchanted items lies at the magic-users beck and call, save the arms and armor of the fighters (see, however, Elves); Magic-Users may arm themselves with daggers only.  -Men & Treasure

Clerics: Clerics gain some of the advantages from both of the other two classes (Fighting-Men and Magic-Users) in that they have the use of magic armor and all non-edged magic weapons (no arrows!), plus they have numbers of their own spells.

Elves: Elves can begin as either Fighting-Men or Magic-Users and freely switch class whenever they choose, from adventure to adventure, but not during the course of a single game. Thus, they gain the benefits of both classes and may use both weaponry and spells. They may use magic armor and still act as Magic-Users.

The rules explicitly prevent the Magic-User from wearing magic armour, but non-magical armour seems to be fine. Kit out your wizard in a set of plate and give them a shield; they'll need it.

The difference between a human Fighting Man, Cleric, and a Magic-User at level 1 is negligible. The MU casts one spell and turns into a Fighting Man with a dagger, 1 fewer HP, and slightly worse saves.

The weapon-and-armour restriction makes more sense if you view OD&D as a board game with various item cards in a deck. The basic equipment list is your pre-dungeon boring stuff; the real goodies are drawn from the deck, and MUs can't use some of the cards.

You're My Wonderwall

Scale in OD&D is a controversial topic. Most of the time, the books use a tabletop scale of 1" = 10'. Mixing real-world scales and tabletop scales in the same text inevitably leads to confusion.

In the underworld all distances are in feet, so wherever distances are given in inches convert them to tens of feet. -Underworld & Wilderness Adventures 
Wall of Stone: The creation of a stone wall two feet thick with a maximum length and height equalling 10 square inches. The wall will last until dispelled, broken down or battered through as a usual stone wall. Range: 6". -Men & Magic

Is the Wall of Stone:
a) 2' (24") thick in the real-world scale?
b) 2' (24") in tabletop scale, and therefore 240' thick in real-world scale?

"Aha," you say, "when the book writes 'feet' it means 'real-world feet' and when it writes 'inches' it means 'tabletop scale inches'."  

Well read on!

Wall of Iron: Like a Wall of Stone, but the thickness of the wall is three inches and its maximum area 5 square inches. Duration: 12 turns. Range: 6". -Men & Magic

Is the Wall of Iron:
a) 3" thick in the real-world scale?
b) 3" in tabletop scale, and therefore 30' thick in real-world scale?

"Aha!" you say, "when the book writes a number out in words (e.g three) it means 'real world inches' and when it uses a numeral (e.g. 3) it means 'tabletop scale inches'."

And that might make sense if that system was used in any of the other rules, but no, it's arbitrary in the other books. Yes, there is a sensible and obvious answer. No, you are not obligated to pick the sensible answer.

A Magic-User can, arguably, create a Wall of Stone that is:
Tabletop: 10" high, 1" wide, 24" thick.
Real World: 100' high, 10' wide, and 240' thick.

Behold! I am a mighty wizard! 

And, arguably, the spell becomes even mightier outdoors, where 1" = 10 yards = 30'... if you use the variable indoor/outdoor scale (which nobody does, because it's too much trouble).

Sighting Monsters: Players will see monsters at from 40-240 yards (inches convert to tens of yards for the wilderness) unless the monster has surprised the characters involved. -Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

Imagine such a world, covered in criss-crossing iron and stone walls, a labyrinth landscape scarred by wizard wars. Perhaps some small lakes from melting Walls of Ice (60'x20'x60' or 72,000 cubic feet, 538,000 gallons, or 2 million litres of water, or, amazingly, around 1 Olympic swimming pool).

Stepan Alekseev

Periodic Undead

The OD&D Wraith was invented solely to fill a gap on the HD chart.

WRAITHS: These monsters are simply high-class Wights with more mobility, hit dice, and treasure. Hits by silver-tipped arrows will score only 1/2 die of damage, and magic arrows only score 1 die of damage when they hit. -Monsters & Treasure

Clearly, it's not the most original monster. Why the book needed a strict 1:1 HD:Undead list is not entirely clear. Perhaps it has something to do with levelling up from a Skeleton to a Vampire. Nothing else in OD&D follows this systematic progression.

We'll be referring to these tables quite a bit.

HD-Based Combat Resolution 

In most post-OD&D games with descending Armour Class, like Old School Essentials, a Shield+1 is an extra -1 AC (-2 AC total). This makes intuitive sense and speeds up combat resolution.

In OD&D, it works slightly differently. A Shield+1 is -1 AC and subtracts 1 from the HD of the opponent.

Armor proper subtracts its bonus from the hit dice of the opponents of its wearer. -Monsters & Treasure


A PC with Chainmail+1 (AC 5) and a Shield+1 (AC -1) is fighting an Orc (1+1 HD).

AC subtraction (incorrect): PC has AC 2 (5-1-1-1). The Orc, as a HD 1+1 creature, hits AC 2 on a 16.

HD modification (correct): PC has AC 4 (5-1). The Orc's HD is reduced by 2 (one from the Chainmail+1, one from the Shield+1). As a HD "up to 1" creature, it hits AC 4 on a 14.

A PC with the best available armour in OD&D, Plate Mail+2 (AC 3)  Shield+3 (AC -1) (AC 2 total) is fighting an Orc (1+1 HD). 

AC subtraction (incorrect): PC has AC -3, which is not on the table.

HD modification (correct): PC has AC 2 (3-1). The Orc's HD is reduced by 5. As a HD "up to 1" creature, it hits AC 2 on a 17.

The same PC is fighting a Balrog (HD 10). The Balrog's HD is reduced by 5. As a HD 4-6 creature, it hits AC 2 on a 12.

The worst possible to-hit is a 17. You always have at least a 20% chance to hit.

This whole HD-reduction scheme makes a lot more sense if you have access to Chainmail's combat system, but we don't.

Ariel Perez

Helmets, Shields, and Hit Probability

In OD&D, there is a hidden pre-attack resolution step. Helmets are listed on the equipment list (Men & Magic), but do not have any rules provided. Their rules are implied.

Helm of Reading Magic and Languages: Wearing this helm allows the person to read any language or magical writing. It does not protect in the same way as Magic Armor, so if it is worn in combat any hit upon its wearer should be given a 10% of striking the helm and smashing it. -Monsters & Treasure

Shields also have separate rules.

If the shield's bonus is greater than that of the armor there is a one-third chance that the blow will be caught by the shield, thus giving the additional subtraction. -Monsters & Treasure


A PC with non-magical Chainmail (AC 5), a Shield+1 (AC-1), and no helmet (due to dripping green slime or thriftiness) is fighting an Orc (HD 1+1).

Before making an attack roll, the GM rolls 1d10.
On a 1, the attack hits the unarmoured head (AC 9, so 9 to hit).
On a 2-4, the attack hits the Shield+1 (AC 4, but -1 HD, so 15 to hit).
On a 5-10, the attack hits the Chainmail. (Still AC 4, so 14 to hit).

Combat is not swift, but it is amusing.

Furious Combat

How many times do monsters attack in OD&D?

Attack/Defense capabilities versus normal men are simply a matter of allowing one roll as a man-type for every hit die, with any bonuses being given to only one of the attacks, i.e. a Troll would attack six times, once with a +3 added to the die roll. (Combat is detailed in Vol. III.) -Monsters & Treasure

This suggest that a 6+3 HD troll attacks 6 times, with one attack getting a +3 bonus to the roll. This is (if we know about Chainmail) perfectly sensible, but we don't know about Chainmail.

Also, Combat is not detailed in Vol. III. At best, it's vaguely suggested in Vol. III.


A Troll (6+3 HD) attacks a Lord, 10th Level Fighting-Man with the best available armour in OD&D, Plate Mail+2 (AC 3)  Shield+3 (AC -1) (AC 2 total).

 The Troll attacks as a HD 1+1 creature (6-5) against AC 2, and needs a 16 to hit with 6 attacks, with one roll getting a +3 bonus, and with any hit dealing 1d6 damage. 

A Lord, 10th Level Fighting-Man has 10d6+1 HP. Trolls appear in groups of 2-12.

Clearly, something has gone awry here. All the other rules, and common sense, suggest that monsters attack once unless otherwise specified.

In Melee the Centaur will attack twice, once as a man and once as a medium horse. - Monsters & Treasure
Giant Crabs: As these creatures cannot swim, they are a peril only near beaches and on land. They travel 6" per turn. They attack twice, once for each pincher, and can take from 3 - 18 points of damage. - Underworld & Wilderness Adventures

Still, it's amusing to imagine a non-Chainmail combat system using high-powered blender-like monsters. OD&D rocket tag. A Wraith that makes four attacks, each one draining a level on a hit? Get me out of this dungeon!

Adrian Smith

Giant Strength and HD Modification

Gauntlets of Ogre Power: These gauntlets give the wearer the ability to strike as an Ogre and generally give his hands and arms the strength of an ogre. They do not necessarily increase hit probability however. -Monsters & Treasure

Girdle of Giant Strength: Wearing this device bestows the strength and hit prob-
ability (if greater than the wearer's own) of Hill Giant -Monsters & Treasure

In OD&D, Strength (the characteristic) does not give any bonus to damage. Gygax houseruled this pretty early on, but we don't have access to those rulings.

The Gauntlets of Ogre Power let a PC act as a HD 4+1 creature (equivalent to a level 7-9 PC) for hit probability, unless their hit probability is higher. If you're a level 10 PC, then the gauntlets won't do you any good. Perhaps the GM could rule they're useful for cracking the necks off wine bottles or bending fireplace pokers into pretzels.

The Girdle of Giant Strength lets the PC act as a 8 HD creature (which oddly doesn't have an equivalent on the PC hit table) for hit probability, unless their hit probability is higher.

GIANTS: As stated in CHAINMAIL, Giants act as mobile light catapults with a 20' range. Due to their huge weapons all Giants will score two dice of damage when hitting an opponent. -Monsters & Treasure

So, in OD&D, if you have a Girdle of Giant Strength, you are as strong as a Hill Giant. You can, presumably, act as a mobile light catapult with a 20' range, but in melee you don't deal 2d6 daamge instead of 1d6 unless you are wielding a huge weapon.

How much does a huge weapon weigh in gold pieces? If we're being strict, a Girdle of Giant Strength doesn't increase a character's carrying capacity beyond the standard 1,500gp limit. After all, the Gauntlets of Ogre Power apply to the hands and arms, not the back, spine, and hamstrings.

On the other hand, "Wandering Giants will carry from 1,000 to 6,000 Gold Pieces with them in their usual copious shoulder sack" (Monsters & Treasure), so maybe your carrying capacity is increased to 6,000gp.

Filipe Pagliuso

Hold It Right There

If you're used to Hold Person as a "lock in place"-type spell, OD&D's version might be a bit confusing.

Hold Person: A spell similar to a Charm Person but which is of both limited duration and greater effect. It will effect from 1-4 persons. If it is cast at only a single person it has the effect of reducing the target's saving throw against magic by -2. Duration: 6 turns + level of the caster. Range: 12". 

Charm Person and Charm Monster are two of the most powerful spells in OD&D, as they give you a permanent hireling (and a hilarious melee-range liability if the spell is ever dispelled).

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"

Charm Person: 1 target, permanent.
Hold Person: 1-4 targets, 6 turns + level of caster.

Charm Monster: The counterpart of a Charm Person spell which is employable against all creatures. If animals or creatures with three or fewer hit dice are involved determine how many are effected by the spell by rolling three six-sided dice. It is otherwise identical to the Charm Person spell.

Hold Monster: Same as Hold Person but applicable to Monsters.

Charm Monster: 1 monster or 3d6 total HD of monsters with 3 or fewer HD, permanent.
Hold Monster: 1-4 monsters, 6 turns + level of caster.

You could argue that Hold Monster would work on 12d6 total HD of monsters with 3 or fewer HD.

Ville Sinkkonen

Final Notes

Do you have a favourite weird OD&D rule? Have I made a terrible mistake in my interpretation of the sacred texts? Post your feedback in the comments.


OSR: The Monster Overhaul is back in stock!

 Good news! After selling out the first print run in record time The Monster Overhaul: A Practical Bestiary is back in stock.

Check out The Monster Overhaul Megapost for reviews, links, and other information. 

This will be one of only 10 physical volumes on my gaming shelf ... worthy of being elevated beyond a PDF on my hard drive.


Kidnap the Kaiser!

In January of 1919, eight men conspired to kidnap Wilhelm II, the abdicated Kaiser. 

History is full of events that beggar belief. This is one of them.  It's usually portrayed as an amusing footnote or a drunken prank that got out of hand. But it was, despite the silliness, a deadly serious, if not particularly well-thought-out, plan. 

It is also the most American thing that has ever happened.  

"You will have to understand also that this kidnap attempt was engineered entirely by Tennesseans, whose history encourages them to treasure a tradition of direct and violent action."

-T. H. Alexander, 'They Tried to Capture the Kaiser,' Saturday Evening Post, 23 October 1937

Front row: Capt. Leland S. MacPhail, Col. Luke Lea,
Cap. Thomas P. Henderson, 1st Lt. Ellsworth Brown
Back row: Sgt. Dan Reilly, Sgt. Egbert O. Hail,
Sgt. Owen Johnston, Cpl. Marmaduke P. Clokey

Part 1: Colonel Luke Lea and His Magnificent Seven

At first, I thought it was a tall tale. After twenty years or more, memories can be a bit fuzzy. If all I had to go on was Luke Lea's unpublished memoir notes and a few interviews in weekend papers, I probably wouldn't believe this story.

Luckily, the incomparable William Schabas went through the archives. As an amusing diversion in the middle of his book on early international law, The Trial of the Kaiser, he picked through the corroborating documents, diaries, official inquires, telegrams, and memoirs. It all really happened.

The first trip ended in failure.

The first trip to capture the Kaiser took place from December 24 to 28, 1918. It met defeat under the handicaps of hunger, cold, five-dollars-per-gallon gasoline, and finally, lack of Dutch passports, ending before the barbed-wire entanglements of the Dutch border patrol.

-T. H. Alexander, 'They Tried to Capture the Kaiser,' Saturday Evening Post, 23 October 1937

But the second trip came far closer to success than, on the face of it, it any right to. 

I had selected to accompany me on that trip three officers: Captains Thomas P. Henderson and Leland S. McPhail and Lieutenant Ellsworth Brown. Captain Henderson, commander of Battery "F" had been my life long friend. . . . Captain McPhail, a talented and brilliant officer, commander of Battery "B", was as resourceful as only an American can be, and an accomplished linguist. Lieutenant Ellsworth Brown, the communication officer of the regiment had become a radio expert. Three enlisted men were chosen. Marmaduke Clokey, who had been my motorcycle orderly throughout our service at the front, I knew from experience. Clokey was absolutely fearless and as cool under fire as he was sitting around a table staring into a full house with kings up. Sergeant Dan Reilly was the second. Reilly, my loyal soldier then and my devoted friend today, had been in charge of our telephone detail. He was naturally an expert radio, telephone and auto mechanic. Another loyal soldier, Sergeant Owen Johnston was the third. Johnston was not only a good soldier, but an unusual jack-of-all trades in that he was good at all.

I advised no member of the party the nature or destination of the trip. I told them I had a five day leave and asked if they wished to accompany me. The trip might be dangerous! It would certainly be exciting. All wished to join me. None asked any questions except the hour and place of departure

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222

Ordinarily, you'd expect a mad officer, a few friends along for the ride, and some cynical press-ganged NCOs who are keeping them out of trouble, but Lea had raised the all-volunteer 114th Field Artillery Regiment himself. These were his Good Old Boys, his praetorian guard.

Lea organized a volunteer regiment, later to become the 114th Field Artillery, and was commissioned a lieutenant-colonel and later a colonel in command of the regiment. This Tennessee volunteer outfit served ten months in France, and it fought in the Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel drives that helped break the Hindenburg line. For his role in the war, Lea was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

-Tennessee State Library and Archives

And they knew exactly what they were getting into.

Lea later claimed that the others in his team knew nothing of his plan to kidnap the Kaiser or even to visit Amerongen. In fact, before the army disciplinary inquiry into the mission, Lea suggested that he had not even contemplated visiting the Kaiser. The whole idea came to him after entering Holland a few days later, he lied. But in an interview with The New Yorker in 1941, Larry MacPhail confessed that all of them were in on the plot from the beginning. ‘We’ll nab the old gentleman, fellows, and we’ll turn him over to the United States Government’, said Lea in his briefing at the outset of the trip. ‘They’ll be legally obliged to string him up.’

 -William A. Schabas, 'The Trial of the Kaiser'  (2018), Oxford. See also Robert Lewis Taylor, ‘Profiles, Borough Defender—II’, The New Yorker, 12 July 1941, p. 21

We started on a cold December afternoon from Luxemburg for Liege in Belgium where we expected to be able to secure passports to cross from a point near Liege, Belgium, into neutral Holland. Then I intended to drive directly to Amerongen.

The seven of us were loaded with our blanket rolls and an extra supply of gasoline into a seven passenger Winton car. It was the regimental car. It had been the heel of an Achillean regiment throughout its service at the front. The Winton furnished variety. It always needed repairs but never twice in the same place until a complete cycle of repairs had been passed. It had sixteen punctures one night when it was transporting our regimental surgeon, Major Larkin Smith, the oldest man in the regiment from Wormbey to St. Reney on our march around Verdun to our new position in the Meuse Argonne.

The Winton ran true to form the first evening of our trip to visit the Kaiser. It had not gone thirty kilometers until it blew up, both literally and figuratively speaking. Luckily, an American corp truck soon passed us and we put Clokey on it with instructions to bring us the regimental car of the 115th F.A. with whom we were brigaded. At that time the commanding officer of that regiment was my own Lieutenant Colonel James A. Gleason. A truer and abler soldier and a more typical Irishman never lived than Gleason. I told Clokey to tell Gleason that I wanted to use his car for five days and Gleason would give it to him. Gleason resembled Theodore Roosevelt in action as far as a friend was concerned. He always did what the friend wanted and then found a reason for doing it. About midnight Clokey, as I had confidently expected, returned with the 115th regimental car, a splendid eight cylinder Cadillac.

Clokey brought more than the car. With him was Egbert Hail, the son of one of the leading business men at home, the 115th regimental chauffeur, a good soldier and an absolutely fearless man. In the meantime Reilly and Johnston had succeeded in repairing the Winton until it was again in running condition. The trip was then resumed. 

In the army during active service there was little, if any difference, between night and day. The Armistice had been of too recent a date to change our habits. We drove all night and about seven the next morning eight completely frozen American soldiers arrived at Liege.

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222 

Lea neglects to mention that the men carried pistols under their seats, along with the usual array of blunt objects found in cars of that period. (The Trial of the Kaiser, pg. 84).

No company has ever produced, as far as I can tell, a model of the Winton Six Limousine or the much more popular Cadillac Type 57. Such a shame. ICM, MiniArt, or Copper State Models could easily make a bestselling diorama set from this story. There are plenty of reference photos online. While the Winton was a rare beast, the Cadillac Type 57 saw service with everyone.

1918 Cadillac 57

1917 Winton Six. The model used by the kidnappers may have had an enclosed cab.

After breakfast an amusing incident occurred. We wanted to fill the gasoline tanks of both cars at Liege so as not to draw upon our reserve supply. McPhail was acting as interpreter. He spoke French fluently and Belgian haltingly. He therefore used French at the Belgian army post where we were seeking to buy gasoline. There was no American army station or post at Liege. The Belgian officer objected to selling us gas unless we followed a certain red tape routine which required the approval of at least ten Belgian officials high and low. The routine would have consumed all of our leave. McPhail's reply, delivered in both perfect French, and broken Belgian for emphasis, was that if Americans had used all that red tape in deciding whether to come to Belgian's aid, the Germans would still be occupying Liege that day instead of the Belgians being back home and haggling over the sale to the Americans of a few gallons of gas. The thrust accomplished its purpose. Not only did the Belgian officer fill the tanks of both cars, but he flatly refused to take pay for it. This refusal by a European to take money was the first of two such occurrences that ever happened to me on four trips abroad, including nine months spent in France during the World War. The other also occurred on this trip into Holland.

After a substantial breakfast at Liege, we motored to Maastricht to secure passports for our trip into Holland. Red tape has always been thick in Washington. It completely wrapped up the army administration in the States. It absolutely embalmed the Consular service until it was what it then was and what it is today, - a mummy. We were politely told that we would be lucky if we could secure passports in six weeks. Our statement that we had fewer days of leave than the weeks it would take to secure the passports brought only a European shrug of the shoulders. The interview was at an end. All consuls are career men at least in their manner. All career men are proud of their knowledge of European habits and that they have forgotten raw, crude American ways. We were determined not to abandon our objective. Therefore, we started almost immediately for Brussels to see Minister, later Ambassador, Whitlock.

I had known Brand Whitlock when President Wilson nominated him for Minister to Belgium. There was some opposition to his confirmation in the Senate. I had always admired his liberalism and his sincerity in public life. It had been a real privilege as a Senator from Tennessee to assist in and give support to his confirmation. I knew Brand Whitlock, unless he had changed, - unless he had become a career diplomat since he was abroad, - would cut the red tape necessary to give us immediately the necessary passports.

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222 

Colonel Lea seems to have been one of those people who knows someone in every town and at every level of society.

We had a long and cold drive and were completely frozen on our arrival at Brussels. We were instantly thawed by the warmth of the welcome by Brand Whitlock. He said he would secure the passports and have them signed as quickly as we could have the necessary photographs taken, but he would issue them only on one condition that our party would have dinner with him that night. His condition was joyously met by men who had lived on food out of tins for nearly five months. The photographs, such as they were, were taken and finished that afternoon and four ravenously hungry officers met the Minister at dinner that night. All of us did more than justice to a splendid American meal. 

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222

The overcoats of the officers were worn after a winter of service in the mud with their field pieces, so each member of the party had his picture made in Colonel Lea's resplendent new Army overcoat, passing it from hand to hand as each faced the camera. While they waited for the pictures to be developed, they took a busman's holiday and, fresh from eight months of active service in France, they visited the Battlefield of Waterloo.

-T. H. Alexander, 'They Tried to Capture the Kaiser,' Saturday Evening Post, 23 October 1937

Fate had more gifts for Colonel Lea. Whitlock's guest, scheduled far in advance of the Colonel's visit, was probably the one person in Brussels who could not only speed their entry into Holland, but shield them in an aura of official glory.

Minister Whitlock had as another guest that evening the Holland Ambassador to Belgium. I was introduced as a United States Senator as well as a Colonel. The Holland Ambassador seemed much impressed and insisted that we wait until nine the next morning as he desired to present us with a laissez passer in the name of Her Majesty, the Queen of Holland. I tried to impress the ambassador with the fact that I was no longer a Senator so as not to sail under false colors. I stated emphatically to him that I was only a lowly American Colonel.

His reply made in jest was, "Once a senator always a senator - My dear Herr Colonel - Senator or shall I say Herr Senator Colonel?" 

Minister Whitlock urged us to stay for the laissez passer as he said we would save by it many hours more than the ten hours it delayed our departure from Brussels. A good night in bed was also another inducement. We spent the night in Brussels. Promptly at nine we presented ourselves at the Holland Embassy. The Ambassador had the laissez passer ready. He said he had been authorized by Her Majesty's Government at the Hague to issue it and it was a great pleasure to give us this key which would open all the official gates in Holland to us.

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222

How Lea kept a straight face while accepting this document is a mystery. Maurice van Vollenhoven published his memoirs in 1954. Based on a fairly quick skim, I do not believe this adventure features in his reminiscences.

Both Minister Whitlock and the Holland Ambassador seemed to be curious about our wanting to go into Holland. I told both that the object of our trip was "Journalistic Investigations," adding "That phrase covers a multitude of sins of omission at least." This phrase was used in the application for the passports. The laissez passer, as translated, read as follows:
"Legation of Holland in Belgium
Valid for temporary free entrance and exit by motorcar

The Minister-Resident of H.M. the Queen of Holland has the honor of requesting the Custom and Excise Officers in Holland to give, when passing custom examination, all facilities permitted by the existing regulations, to the most honorable Senator Colonel Luke Lea, who is proceeding to Holland (and return by motorcar, on official duty from the U.S. Government accompanied by five other members of the mission in uniform.)
Brussels, January 4th,1919

The Minister-Resident
(signed) Van Nollshm."
-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222
Note that the Saturday Evening Post has "Signed Von Nollehm." Evidently Maurice van Vollenhoven's signature was not particularly legible.

With a passport in his pocket describing him as a Senator of the United States who was on ‘official business’, and a laissez-passer issued by the Dutch mission in Brussels authorising travel in uniform, Lea and his group returned to Liège, picking up the Winton along the way. A snowstorm had made the roads to the north impassable, and they spent the night in the Belgian city. Finally, on the morning of 5 January, they reached the Dutch border near Maastricht, not far from where the Kaiser himself had crossed not quite two months earlier.

‘No American officers are wanted or permitted in Holland’, said the border guard to the seven uniformed men. Lea brandished the laissez- passer. ‘No trick of Houdini’s ever created the astonishment my producing Her Majesty’s laissez passer did’, recalled Lea in his memoir. ‘Brusqueness, gruffness and rudeness gave place immediately to courtesy and consideration.’ The guard promptly saluted and waved them through.

They proceeded north to Nijmegen, where one of the cars broke down in the public square. While it was being repaired, the Americans stopped at the Hotel de Kroon.There they encountered a Dutch teenager with a smattering of English who claimed to know the way to Amerongen. Constant Boetter, whom the Americans nicknamed ‘Hans’, was hired as a guide and interpreter.

-William A. Schabas, 'The Trial of the Kaiser'  (2018), Oxford. 

At about dusk we encountered the first major disappointment of the trip. A bridge over a branch of the Rhine had washed away. We had to secure passage on a ferry to cross it. This would also have been impossible except for our laissez passer. It opened the ferry gates but even it was not powerful enough to enable us to make the necessary trade with the management. We desired to have the ferry remain on the Northern side of the river from eight thirty until we returned. We had already made arrangements at a nearby town for the Belgian guard to pass both our cars into Germany without halting us.

We tried in vain to bargain for the ferry to remain on the Northern side of the river from eight thirty P.M. until we returned. The failure to find a bridge across the river or to induce the ferry to wait on the Amerongen side of the river made a necessary change in plans.

I had hoped by a surprise visit to be able to place the Kaiser in the Cadillac. If we had succeeded in that nothing could have pre- vented our taking William Hohenzollern all the way to Paris and presenting him as a New Year's gift to President Wilson.

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222

Lea is not exaggerating the problem. Based on squinting at some old maps, the absent road bridge at Nijmegen was probably the only proper road bridge along the Waal in 1919. They could have crossed the railway bridge at Nijmegen or diverted to the railway bridge at Zaltbommel, but that's about it. The world was still a rail-dominated place.

Could a Cadillac Type 55 have survived a journey across a rail bridge? Probably (although the Smithsonian refuses to let me test this theory). The spaces between the sleepers might be packed with snow from the recent snowstorm. There were level crossings at both ends of the bridge. If they tried it during the day, they'd almost certainly be spotted and intercepted, but they'd be trying it at night, in tolerably poor weather.

Would President Wilson have appreciated his Christmas present? Almost certainly not. We'll get to that later.

Part 2: The King of the Castle

At 8.30 in the evening on 5 January, the American soldiers arrived at Amerongen. Their pistols were concealed under the seats of the cars. They were given direction by a townsman on the way to Bentinck’s castle. A sentry awaited them at the entrance to the grounds. Lea thought him to be ‘unmis- takably’ a German soldier because of his military bearing, although the guard wore a Dutch uniform. Lea shone his flashlight not on the sentry, but on himself, so as to indicate his Sam Browne belt, ‘the insignia of the rank of an officer in all armies’. Lea had studied German at university and had some re- cent practice interrogating prisoners of war. He used the language to call the sentry to attention. The guard dutifully obliged, clicking his heels, and saluted. To the astonishment of the other Americans, in his workable German Lea successfully ordered the obedient sentry to take them to the castle. However, they were not escorted to the castle proper, but to the lodge of the manager of the estate. While Lieutenant Brown and the non-commissioned officers waited with the vehicles, Lea, Henderson, and MacPhail, accompanied by ‘Hans’ the interpreter, entered the lodge.

-William A. Schabas, 'The Trial of the Kaiser'  (2018), Oxford. 


The only road is on the right side of the image. The "lodge" is one of the three buildings on the lower right.


"Apparently," said MacPhail, "Lea's original plan had been to get inside the castle as quickly as possible, without anyone's leave, grab the Kaiser, and make off with him. But all the 'official' stuff that the Minister had arranged made him pause and he decided on a slight change of plans."

"Instead of cooling off the sentry we expected to find at Amerongen with a tyre iron and just barging in, and possibly having to hit other people over the head before we could snatch the Kaiser, Lea decided now to make things very formal. He would show all his wonderful papers, ask for an interview, with the Kaiser and then 'persuade' him to come along."

-'He Tried to Kidnap the Kaiser', The Sunday Herald, 26 June 1953.

McPhail says that the group cut all the castle's telephone wires before confronting the sentry. Lea's biography makes no mention of this, just as he doesn't mention the group's weapons. 

Kaiser Wilhelm, Count Godard Bentinck, and his family and guests were just finishing dinner when a servant interrupted them to announce the arrival of a party of American officers on an official visit to see the former Emperor. Carlos Bentinck, one of the Count’s sons, in full dinner dress, a tailcoat and white tie, went to meet the Americans. Carlos Bentinck was a Dutch diplomat, recently ‘posted’ by the Foreign Ministry to Amerongen in order to help his father manage the distinguished houseguest. Throughout the encounters that evening, Bentinck sought to deal with the matter in such a way as to avoid conflict or provocation. He described Lea as a man of ‘large stature’ who introduced himself as ‘Colonel Senator Luke Lea’. The young Dutch interpreter swooned, awestruck by this encounter with nobility. Lea had him taken back to one of the cars. Lea himself was rather less impressed. He thought the young Count Bentinck affected mannerisms of the Kaiser, noting his upturned moustache

The Dutch aristocrat spoke to them in English. Lea introduced himself and the other American officers. He said they had come to meet the Kaiser, but that they would only explain the real purpose of the visit to the former Emperor himself. According to Lea, Bentinck appeared disturbed and excited. The young Count excused himself and returned to consult with the Kaiser

While they were waiting for Bentinck to return, a butler offered the Americans water to drink and cigars. Lea speculated that Bentinck was sensitive to American attitudes about alcoholic drinks and didn’t want to cause offence by serving liquor.When Henderson complained about the water, the butler fetched a bottle of champagne. Upon his return, Bentinck informed Lea that ‘His August Majesty’ was only prepared to meet with the American party if they first declared the purpose of their visit. He also told them that they could not enter the castle itself without the permission of the Governor of Utrecht. They were joined at this point by the mayor or burgemeester of Amerongen, Rudolf Everhard Willem van Weede, who was also dining with the Kaiser. To a few remarks in Lea’s rudimentary German, Van Weede responded in ‘beautiful, fluent, Bostonian English’. ‘Colonel Lea, I am sure we will progress more rapidly speaking in English’, he said in a patronising tone. ‘I am a graduate of Harvard University.’

-William A. Schabas, 'The Trial of the Kaiser'  (2018), Oxford. 

McPhail provides a different interpretation of the meeting.

"The general was agreeable to arranging an interview with the Kaiser, at which ostensibly we were to transmit to him important information. But von Bentinck, more suspicious, excused himself to go and speak with his Majesty. Actually he left the room in order to telephone the Hague and check on us." 

"When he discovered that the line had been cut, he sent a runner out the back door to summon the burgomaster and the military commandant. Then he came back and parlayed with us, killing time."

-T. H. Alexander, 'They Tried to Capture the Kaiser,' Saturday Evening Post, 23 October 1937

Lea produced the laissez-passer that had been issued in Brussels. Carlos Bentinck later told a representative of the American embassy that when Lea brandished the laissez-passer, he said: ‘This will explain.’ At the inquiry following the visit, Lea contended that he knew nothing of the contents of the laissez-passer, which was written in Dutch, an explanation the Judge Advocate General accepted. But in his memoir, Lea claimed he produced the document in order to give ‘an official colour to our presence’. The laissez-passer made an immediate impression, ‘even upon the blasé Bentinck and the Harvardised burgomaster’, Lea recalled.

-William A. Schabas, 'The Trial of the Kaiser'  (2018), Oxford. 

It was astonishing bit of bluff, but it did him no good. Negotiations broke down.  

Addressing me the Burgomaster continued. "His Majesty has been unwilling to refuse to meet you and your officers lest you be here officially. His Majesty has done me the honor to instruct me to say that if you, Colonel Lea, will make the statement on your word of honor as an American officerthat you are here as the representative of President Wilson, or of General Pershing, or 'even' of Colonel House, he will grant you a brief audience. Otherwise His Majesty will decline to grant any audience to any uninvited persons no matterin what form they seek it.

I was willing to go to any length within the bounds of truth,no matter what the consequences might be to see the Kaiser and accomplish the object of our mission. I was, of course, unwilling to make a false statement. We were not there officially. We represented no one. I replied that I was not in the Castle as a representative of President Wilson, General Pershing, or "even" Colonel House. 

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222

After a bit more verbal sparring, the group decided to leave.

"Before we knew it, the castle was surrounded by Dutch troops headed by an officer and the burgomaster."

-'He Tried to Kidnap the Kaiser', The Sunday Herald, 26 June 1953.

The group marched out, did not ask for permission to leave, and drove off.

As I had feared when we had found the ferry instead of a bridge over the Rhine river, the ferry was on the far side of the river. We had great difficulty in signaling it and arranging for it to come across and ferry us to the other side. A delay of nearly a half hour occurred. It was well past midnight when we were on the opposite side of the river from Amerongen. I thought it advisable here for the party to separate. I knew that one car could get across the border into Germany and return to Luxemburg that way because I had arranged for the passage, across the border into Germany when I had hoped to be host to the Kaiser on the return trip. The other was necessarily forced to return through Holland as we had promised to leave the Dutch interpreter at Maastrecht. It was part of our bargain.

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222

1st Sergeant J. C. “Dog” Ward, 114th Field Artillery, 1918
Sergeant Ward was not a member of the kidnapping party, but I think he captures the spirit of the114th Field Artillery.

The journey home was not entirely without incident.

As soon as I was in the back of the Winton I followed Hail's example before the Kaiser's castle and proceeded to take quite an extensive nap. I was rudely awakened by a loud noise and a terrific jolt. For a moment in a sleepy half-dazed condition I imagined we had run afoul of the entire Dutch army. Instead I found that Reilly had followed his commanding officer's suit. He had gone to sleep while driving.

The Winton being somewhat of a steeple chaser had attempted to hurdle a two-story house just off the road. To our great surprise no damage was done to the car beyond a smashed fender and bumper. We found we were on the edge of a small Dutch village. In less time than it takes to tell it a Dutch head, crowned with an old fashioned night cap, was poked out of the window of every nearby
house. The night air was rendered hideous by various raucous Dutch exclamations none of which we were able to understand. The tones of the many voices in which they were uttered convinced us, even before our interpreter began to interpret, that we were again "unwelcome guests."


In a heavy fog which enveloped nearly every vale on the road Dan struck a young man riding a bicycle of ancient vintage. The man was knocked off the wheel but was on his feet before any member of our party reached him. All of us rushed back to render first aid if he was injured. He stated to our delight he was not hurt, his bicycle was only slightly damaged and the accident was his fault as he was on the wrong side of the highway. Nevertheless to avoid the possibility of our being delayed at the next town to be ques- tioned about the accident I pushed a twenty franc note into his hands. He looked hungrily at it a moment, blushed, and aped J. Ceasar. He refused the offer three times. Thus we saved both our manners and francs by encountering a new, hitherto unknown species of European man, - one probably completely extinct in these materialistic days.

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222

To celebrate these famous historical events, American tourists still crash into walls and cyclists all over the Netherlands.

McPhail took the Cadillac and returned by a different route, through occupied Germany, and therefore took a different and more exciting border crossing. The Saturday Evening Post seems a bit confused on this point.

The cars crossed into Belgium (sic) without the formality of stopping. Lights were turned off and accelerators pressed hard down. Shots were fired by the frontier guards, but nobody was hit.

-T. H. Alexander, 'They Tried to Capture the Kaiser,' Saturday Evening Post, 23 October 1937

The rest of the tale is an anticlimax. The group returned to the Regiment, though Colonel Lea had a few adventures along the way, including bluffing his way into the Peace Conference. A court of inquiry let him off with less than a slap on the wrist, thanks to the lack of harm done, Lea's half-truths and outright lies, and a few clever legal arguments. The whole affair was a mild embarrassment. Just some drunken American souvenir-hunters with more daring than sense, who worried but amused the Kaiser and stole his ashtray. By March he was back in America, along with his regiment.

American troops, probably including the 114th Artillery Regiment, sailing home aboard the USS Finland, March of 1919

Part 3: What If?

The shambolic kidnap attempt by Luke Lea and his cohorts could have succeeded. Difficult as it is to imagine, the spectacle of the fallen Prussian monarch being delivered by an American army staff car to a hotel in Paris is not outside the realm of possibility.

-William A. Schabas, 'The Trial of the Kaiser'  (2018), Oxford. 

Edmund: You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.
George: What was that, sir?
Edmund: It was bollocks. 
-Blackadder Goes Forth

Lea plays up the humourous aspect of his scheme, but it was, for all its faults, an operation undertaken with deadly seriousness. It could have worked. Sure, if it failed, eight uniformed pistol-wielding Americans would have assassinated the Kaiser on the soil of a neutral country... but they were going to hang him anyway, right? And nobody volunteers for the army expecting to live forever.

The ferry crossing over the Waal is a major obstacle. If the group had to wait half an hour on the bank for the ferry to cross and pick them up, the Dutch army would almost certainly catch them. If they used the rail bridge (and especially if their pursuit didn't know they'd used the rail bridge) they could easily cross into occupied Germany ahead of their pursuers.

  • Same arrival time at Amerongen Castle (~8:30 pm). 
  • Fortifying drinks (as the group seems to have been sober for their actual attempt, which may have diminished their enthusiasm). For want of a bottle of brandy and a bridge, the Kaiser escaped.
  • Knock the sentry over the head with a tire iron and tie him up (or tip the body into the moat; tire irons are no joke).
  • Drive into the courtyard.
  • Leave the unreliable Winton near the lodge. Drive the Cadillac to the bridge connecting the courtyard to the castle.
  • March up to the door (no weapons visible).
  • Convince someone inside to open the door, probably with schoolboy German and the use of the official-looking laissez-passer
  • Do not stop moving for any reason. Call the guards bluff (are they really going to shoot a high-ranking American carrying an official document and speaking in a calm tone?)
  • Point revolvers at the Kaiser and his dinner guests. It's unclear from the various accounts where this dinner was taking place, but the castle's dinner room (as opposed to the lodge's) seems likely.
  • Get him out of the castle, into the Cadillac, and on the road before anyone can send a runner for the Dutch troops. 
  • Cross the railroad bridge into Nijmegen.
  • Go through the border crossing at Kleve into occupied Germany. Lights out, accelerator down, duck to avoid the (alleged) bullets. This assumes that the border isn't defended with any greater force than it was during the actual attempt.
  • Get the nearest General out of bed and report to them (as actually delivering the Kaiser to Paris in one night, without anyone noticing, would be difficult.)
  • Sit back and watch all hell break loose.

The Dirty Rascals

The Paris Peace Conference was set to open on January 18th. News of the kidnapping would reach the world very late on Jan 5th, or more probably on Jan 6th.

On Jan 6th, President Wilson was in Turin. He was due back in Paris on the 7th. I don't think he would have rushed back to Paris. The phrase "President Wilson rushed" rarely occurs in the historical record, and only then as a figure of speech. He would have stuck to his program and, while thinking, left his advisors and subordinates without clear orders.

Hang the Kaiser

The Great Powers and their fleets of experts had agreed, vaguely, on an international tribunal for the Kaiser and other war criminals, but had not, in January 1919, made any formal agreements or set a definitive plan.

Wilson's stance, as usual, put him at odds with the world.

The Under Secretary of State, Frank L. Polk, expressed Wilson’s position more dramatically. He wrote that he had spoken to the President, who said that ‘under no circumstances was he prepared to commit himself at this time. The question of the punishment of the German Kaiser could be taken up when he reached France.’ Meanwhile, Wilson told journalists who were on board the ship with him, somewhere between New York City and Cherbourg, that he was not ‘wholly convinced that the Kaiser was personally responsible for the war or the prosecution of it .. . The Kaiser was probably a victim of circumstance and environment. In a case of this sort you can’t with certainty put your finger on the guilty party’.

-William A. Schabas, 'The Trial of the Kaiser'  (2018), Oxford. 

Europe had not yet had a chance to grow disillusioned with Wilson, or grasp the gulf between his ideals and his means. 

Had the Kaiser been surrendered in January 1920, the Allies would have found themselves woefully unprepared. British lawyers had assembled a mediocre and inadequate brief. They were a step ahead of the French, who seem to have assumed they could improvise the whole business. The charges them- selves were bewildering, leaving it uncertain whether and to what extent hey included responsibility for starting the war and for violations of the laws and customs of war. The organisation and administration of such an international criminal proceeding was uncharted territory.

-William A. Schabas, 'The Trial of the Kaiser'  (2018), Oxford. 

Note that this is Schabas' summary of the position in January 1920, after a full year of debate. The sudden appearance of the Kaiser in January 1919 would have been even more catastrophic. The contrast between the well-meaning but badly directed bickering of the experts at the Conference and the wild Gordian solution of Colonel Lea could not be greater.

The Kaiser's kidnapping would probably dominate the early days of the Paris Peace Conference. It would focus limited and fractious executive energies on a relatively minor matter, rather than the urgent task of making peace. The Kaiser's presence, the scandal of the kidnapping, his demands, threats, and revelations would keep the otherwise lightly employed journalists assigned to the Conference busy.


Our plan did not violate the neutrality of Holland in any way. It was to secure the person of William Hohenzollern, still the proclaimed enemy of the United States and the Allies, to place him in the Cadillac and to deliver him in Paris to President Wilson. We knew full well the Dutch and German guards at Amerongen would never dare to "shoot up" the car in which the Kaiser rode lest they might kill their "All Highest." And finally,we knew once we had the Kaiser in the Cadillac he would never have been taken from it alive. We knew as only American soldiers can know what they can accomplish that if we succeeded in putting the Kaiser in the car, we would deliver him in Paris to President Wilson.

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222

Despite Lea's claim, his adventure was a blatant violation of neutrality. An armed party of Americans, in uniform, entering the country under false pretences, lying to officials, and kidnapping a guest?

The kidnapping would probably be the end of any hope of charging the Kaiser with the violation of the rights of neutral countries, even if the delegates at the Conference had the will to do so, which, even in early 1919, they didn't. 

Habeus Corpus

Would the kidnapped Kaiser be a prisoner of war, a mere prisoner, or a hostage? What was he charged with, and by whom? Could he give interviews? Ask for a lawyer? See his family? Was his detention in any way legal? 

Various experts had come up with theoretical answers to these questions in January 1919. The concept of international law was "embryonic", as Schabas puts it. 

If the Kaiser cast doubts about the circumstances of his abdication... If the Kaiser pointed out the obvious hypocrisies and vague terms of Wilson's Fourteen Points in a louder voice than most...

When the Entente became a fact, William’s wrath was tremendous. Beneath it, and even more galling, rankled Edward’s triumph in Paris. The reise-Kaiser, as he was known from the frequency of his travels, derived balm from ceremonial entries into foreign capitals, and the one above all he wished to visit was Paris, the unattainable. He had been everywhere, even to Jerusalem, where the Jaffa Gate had to be cut to permit his entry on horseback; but Paris, the center of all that was beautiful, all that was desirable, all that Berlin was not, remained closed to him. He wanted to receive the acclaim of Parisians and be awarded the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honor, and twice let the imperial wish be known to the French. No invitation ever came. He could enter Alsace and make speeches glorifying the victory of 1870; he could lead parades through Metz in Lorraine; but it is perhaps the saddest story of the fate of kings that the Kaiser lived to be eighty-two and died without seeing Paris.
-Barbara W. Tuchman, 'The Guns of August', (1962), Macmillan.
Instead of entering as Caesar, he'd enter as Vercingetorix. No doubt the comparison would occur to him, and possibly encourage theatrical exploitation and a few choice quotes. 

The Press

According to Harold Nicholson, "some 500 special newspaper correspondents had been sent to Paris at very great expense" at the start of the Conference. Some of them would probably gnaw off their own legs for a chance at one of the Kaiser's famously indiscreet interviews

Paris, gashed to her very soul, withdrew to lick her wounds. Her place was taken by the Compagnie des Grands Express Européens, or more accurately by the American Express Company. American military police stood side by side with the Policemen on the Champs Elysées. The uniforms of twenty-six foreign armies confused the monochrome of the streets. Paris, for those few weeks, lost her soul. The brain of Paris, that triumphant achievement of western civilization, ceased to function. The nerves of Paris jangled in the air.

The French reacted to this barbarization of their own foyer in a most unhelpful manner. Almost from the first they turned against the Americans with embittered resentment. The constant clamour of their newspapers, the stridency of their personal attacks, increased in volume. The ineptitude of the newspapers published in Paris in the English language has seldom been surpassed. The cumulative effect of all this shouting outside the very doors of the Conference produced a nervous and as such unwholesome effect. Our breakfast tables became a succession of intemperate yells.

The President himself was strangely sensitive to these forms of animosity. He did not mind so much when he was accused of theocracy, when he was abused for not visiting the devastated areas, or when he was openly arraigned as a pro-German or as a prophet obsessed by his Utopias. Alone with God and the People he could withstand, almost without wincing, these assaults upon him. What he minded were the funny little jokes which the French papers would make about him, the persistent cloud, not of incense, but of ridicule with which they perfumed his path. Every incident that occurred (and there were many incidents) was used by the French press to expose the President in a ridiculous light. To the presbyterian, persecution is a crown of glory, and opposition is an opportunity vouchsafed by God. It is the quiet of the constant smile which goads them to desperation. Mr. Wilson suffered most acutely under the gay lampoons of Paris. This addition to his many preoccupations, these bright shavings flaming around the slow fire of his despair, are not to be underestimated as factors in his final collapse. The President had come to Paris armed with power such as no man in history had possessed: he had come fired with high ideals such as have inspired no autocrat of the past: and Paris, instead of seeing in him the embodiment of the philosopher-king, saw in him a rather comic and highly irritating professor. The cumulative effect of these sharp little pin-pricks was far greater than has been supposed.

-Harold Nicholson, 'Peacemaking 1919' , (1933), Constable.

The Figaro archives of 1919 are extremely interesting, if you have spare time. 

The Career of Colonel Lea

Colonel Lea's success could be seen as a license to adventure, to do what is necessary while remote and sterile politicians bicker over trivial matters in stuffy rooms. 

The Conference wrote the terms of peace in the blood of the heroic dead of many nations. It was false to the dead and betrayed the living. It was in the main a Conference of slackers who had reaped the harvest of wealth fertilized by corpses of men who in the name of patriotism had given their lives in vain, not to protect mankind but to make those who stayed at home richer and richer, more powerful and more dominating than ever before.

-Luke Lea and William T. Alderson, 'The Attempt to Capture the Kaiser’ (1961) 20 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 222

Lea was in an excellent position to leverage his fame (or infamy). He could use a court-martial as a platform. Based on some anecdotes, General Pershing was probably sympathetic to this sort fo bold adventuring, as was any fan of the Teddy Roosevelt. Would Lea become an American Gabriele D'Annunzio, with a Drive Through Holland instead of a Flight Over Vienna

The American Legion

After his failed kidnapping attempt, Colonel Lea became one of the founders of the American Legion. The American Legion could have easily taken even more of a paramilitary turn in 1919. It certainly had the appetite. 

The audience, composed of members of the Legion and their guests and estimated at 10,000, responded enthusiastically that night of September 12, 1919, at Madison Square Garden to the principles of Americanism as outlined by Colonel Lea:

First, a foreign policy that will maintain for the United States the proud position of the trustee of civilization; a policy that will regard rapine and rape at our doors on the Mexican borders as vile and unspeakable as when committed 4,000 miles distant in Belgium, and will treat and punish as murder the wanton killing of men, women and babes, whether it occurs on the high seas, or on the banks of the Rio Grande; a policy that will demand respect for the Stars and Stripes and protection for all within its shadows; a policy that will insure safety to our borders and protection to the people of Mexico, equally from organized lawlessness and German colonization, even at the cost and sacrifice of policing, and if necessary, of Americanizing devastated and divided Mexico and her neighbors to the Panama Canal.

Second, that the lessons of the war be learned; that squirrel hunters, no matter how brave and patriotic, cannot be mobilized overnight into an effective modern army; that an airplane without a trained pilot is as useless a bird in time of war as the dove of peace; that battleships, dreadnaughts and destroyers cannot spring fully equipped into being in answer to the call for volunteers, in even as patriotic a country as the United States, and that no self-respecting nation can for the second time pursue a policy of peace which will involve finally the choice either of submission to every national insult and indignity, or of humbly asking its allies to hold fast the enemy, while the country deliberately prepares to give him the licking that's coming to him.

Third, a larger participation by labor in the profits it produces, to the common end that the unthinkable and unlivable pre-war conditions of many phases of labor may not return, and that production, with its legitimate profits to the producer, may not be retarded by strikes, lockouts and industrial unrest. Conditions now must be set up that will make sanitary living, education of the young and recreation by the grown not only generally possible, but universally the rule.

Fourth, that America is for Americans. The gates of our ports must be closed to indiscriminate immigration and open for the deportation of undesirables, until there is not a single hyphenated halfbreed, draft dodging I.W.W., or bomb throwing Bolshevist left in this country to break the peace or to mar the perfect understanding between Americans. To live for, to fight for, and if necessary to die for the principles of Americanism, to keep faith with the traditions of the ages behind us, to immortalize the deeds of our glorious dead and to perpetuate permanent peace within and without America, the American Legion was conceived and born.

-Cromwell Tidwell, 'Luke Lea and the American Legion' (1969) 28 Tennessee Historical Quarterly 70