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