Thursday, June 25, 2009

“Chaos and Evil are his Liquor and Smokes…”

Whether you call him the Death Dealer, Warduke, or Thargrim the Dark Lord (that’s Dungeon Quest, folks), the Chaotic Warrior is as recognizable a staple of fantasy games and literature as pointy-ears on elves and dour expressions on dwarves.

Got badass armor? Check.
Got big ass weapon? Check.
Got glowing red eyes? Check.

The strong, silent type with a mysterious origin, their biggest flaw is their complete lack of a sense of humor. Sure they may be diabolically good-looking under that full helm (for all we know), but how’s the hair? No idea. The chaos warrior doesn’t get a whole lot of dates (does the term “foetid breath” mean anything to you?). Let’s call it 0 Charisma.

Which is fine, really, since they tend to work alone. They may inspire fear, but not much loyalty. Kind of a “Darth Vader” syndrome (ol’ DV fits our Chaos Warrior check boxes, too). In the Realms of Chaos, only the strongest survive (not that The Strong’s life expectancy is very high), and the weak follow the stronger out of worshipful awe and mortal fear. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, you know?

Deep in the Borderlands, the Prismatic DM has been adapting the old WFRP minions of Chaos to S&W. I love this. I think WFRP stuff translates great into OD&D, probably because they are both so close to their wargaming roots. Unfortunately, I don’t think Warhammer’s Chaos translates as good to B/X.

Granted, this is just my opinion, and I’m not saying I’m incapable of coming up with B/X stats for Chaos Champions and Spawn. I’m just not sure the B/X game does justice to the Chaos Warrior. Let me try to explain.

In OD&D/S&W play, gaming is…well, “cheaper” is what I want to say but what I mean is “looser” and “more abstract.” This is a game where a 10HD Balrog is extremely badass, even with a simple attack and a little added flame damage. In the S&W game, you can make a simple, abstract Chaos Warrior (again, check out the Borderlands) and still strike fear in PCs and conjure an air of eldritch expectation at the gaming table.

AD&D/Osric/HackMaster is the way to go if you want to adapt the Realms of Chaos (Slaves to Darkness/Lost and the Damned) wholesale into your game. The specificity of the mutations, Chaotic magic items, the motivations of the Chaos powers…hell, the whole Chaos flow chart for PCs who want to “play on the Dark Side.” All of this is fertile soil to be tilled in an AD&D game. It fits with AD&D’s random tables and arcane rule systems.

B/X (and LL and BECMI) is somewhere between these two. It’s simple enough to play that it’s practically a board game…but in my opinion, it doesn’t leave room for these murkier aspects of game play. One really has to start nailing down what it means to be “Chaotic” in a world where the Realms of Chaos are encroaching. Is every Chaotic fighter a “Chaos Warrior?” Are Chaos Warriors the same as human fighters? Do they need their own Race-Class? Do they need a separate one for each power (since some minions have access to spells and some don’t)? What about demi-humans…can they fall to Chaos?

Making a Chaos Warrior into a 2HD monster is treating them like gnolls or hobgoblins…and B/X already has gnolls and hobgoblins! What’s going to distinguish a Chaos Warrior in B/X from an orc wearing heavy armor and carrying a two-handed sword? Not much…glowing red eyes, I guess.

No, unlike AD&D and OD&D, B/X is not made for wholesale rule additions (in my opinion). It’s made for slight “variation to taste,” but it’s designed to be whole and encompassing. Characters all have maximum levels and maximum capabilities. Classes can be re-defined/distinguished (fighters as Norsemen or Horsemen, elves as Hearty Wizards, whatever) but not completely re-tooled.

And BECMI is even worse…with a Chaotic “Avenger” class, what does THAT mean for a Warrior of Chaos. Again, alignments…and what they mean…need to be completely re-worked in one wants a WFRP-like Chaos to make sense.

Which is too bad, in my opinion, as I really like the WFRP setting. OD&D expects players and DMs to add to the rules (it provides a skeleton only) and AD&D has room for many supplements and campaign worlds (as it has already proven with Greyhawk, Krynn, Faerun, etc.). B/X really is a “basic” game, much as I hate to admit it. Players who enjoy it want to be able to pick up a module of the “B” or “X” series and be able to run it quickly with no fuss, no muss. New monsters or magic items are easy enough to add…but wholesale rules on mutations? New classes and rules on mixing classes? Re-defining basic premises of play? Nah…that doesn’t fly.

I won’t add Chaos Warriors as piss-ant (or puissant) monster encounters, nor as optional player classes. I didn’t like how BECMI did that with Monks and Headsmen…I thought the Headsman particularly was a disservice to both the Assassin and to the spirit of B/X…and this would be worse. WFRP’s Realms of Chaos has such a rich tradition that I certainly wouldn’t want to “dumb it down” to Basic play. And B/X is such a sweet little game that I prefer to make my game world fit, rather than add pages of house rules to enable a particular game setting. As I said, too bad.

But I guess I should feel encouraged that I have good reason to break out the OD&D books! Because I LOVES me my glowing-eyed warriors of Chaos.


  1. Hey thanks for the shout out JB! Chaos rules. :-)

  2. Hey, I only wish I could find a way to add Chaos to B/X that would do The Lost justice without needing pages of House Rules.

    Your stats rock for S&W play!