It’s good to be home.
Even if it does mean I’m back to the daily grind (hey, at least I’ve still got a job!). Tonight is Fiddler on the Roof at the 5th Avenue Theater which has got to be my first taste of culture and the arts in many moons…despite breaking her foot in D.C. my wife is excited to get out to the show (rain or not). I’m sure looking forward to it.
Just wanted to throw up some quick notes on Ye Old B/X Games of the weekend:
#1 D6 Damage Convert: This weekend for the first time EVER (as far as I can remember) I had all weapons do 1D6 damage with the exception of daggers, which only did 1D4 (‘cause they were smaller). Playing B/X with non-experienced gamers, they had ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM with this…in fact, they said it “made sense” that two-handed weapons were harder to use (I DID use my “two-handed weapon gets to add double strength bonus” rule, which everyone also agreed was both cool and sensible). End result: combat (and equipment selection, see below) was a lot simpler with newbies that didn’t have to ask, “how much does weapon x, y, or z do.” And since I’m one of those DMs that rolls all damage myself, the D6 only rule made combat much cleaner and faster. Loved it…I am fully converted to this type of play.
#2 Warhammers Are Boss!: So anyone remember my little ramblings about axes getting short-changed? Well, apparently, I am not the only one interested in non-sword weapons. Everyone wanted to wield a damn warhammer, and none o these kids are medieval history majors or any way versed on the finer application of hamer-to-armor ratios. “War hammers are just cool.” I did not disagree (and anyway, I’d already decided all weapons would do D6 damage, so who cares?). Party #1 had Gimly [sic] the dwarf and “Elfy” the elf wielding warhammers. Party #2 had Carl the cleric, “Elfy Jr.” and Burl the Burley all wielding warhammers. Party #3 (7th and 8th level characters) would have used normal warhammers, but I offered the elf a flaming sword for variety and he jumped on that. He DID ask if it could be a flaming warhammer. No. But I allowed the cleric to have a warhammer +1. Jeez. Oh…and while the elf had a “back-up dagger” hidden on his person, the cleric wanted a “little hammer” for the same purpose (wanted to use the “small hammer” that comes with iron spikes as a hidden weapon…no).
#3 Never Read That Before: Spencer pointed out the following paragraph at the bottom of the Basic set equipment list:
Sometimes the characters may wish to buy an item not on this list. In this case, the DM must carefully consider if such an item could be found for sale and, if so, how much it would cost. The item should then be added to this list.
Ok, Spence, what is it you want to buy? “A two-handed warhammer!” Like a big maul or war sledge? “Yeah!” Ok…um, we’ll call it 10gp for rarity and sturdiness of manufacture. They purchased one for Burl the Burley.
#4 No "Dump Stats" in B/X: Heard around the table (while rolling for ability scores): “Come on, come on Charisma!” While the kids had to be reminded of the difference between Dexterity and Constitution (they got these confused…hey, it’s not my fault kids these days don’t read much), EVERYONE wanted a high Charisma. “That’s how you get to hire people to fight for you!” Presumably armed with warhammers.
ALSO: the biggest crowing rights came over the character with the 18 Intelligence and the biggest egg-on-face from the guy with the 7 Intelligence. “Ah, lame, my guy can’t read!” Hahaha. This despite the fact that Intelligence offers no mechanical bonuses other than languages, and we didn’t even use THAT as I (in the mood to expedite play) skipped over the language selection part of character creation. So the 18 intelligence had 0 mechanical bonus except for bragging rights.
That being said, there were MULTIPLE times when I called for ability score checks, and Intelligence and Dexterity were the two most often used, so the high Int DID have an impact. Reaction checks (with regard to monsters, NPC enemies, and townsfolk) were also extremely frequent, and the 13 Charisma elf with a +1 reaction bonus was extremely handy.
#5 Race as Class: “Can I be an elven cleric?” No. Since these kids have never played anything but B/X and Labyrinth Lord (sans AEC), there is only one place they would have ever heard of such a thing: World of Warcraft. How many reasons are there to curse this foul tool of Satan? Ugh.
Elves don’t have clerics, I explain…they’re immortal unless they get killed so why do they need to believe in an afterlife or have priests? Spencer (who has not been raised with ANY religion at all) says: “that’s too bad…you elves could have gone to heaven.” No one wanted the dwarf to be anything other than a dwarf.
#6 And Speaking of Clerics: Asked what alignment the cleric wants to be, Spence says, “Chaotic…like a Death Knight!” (damn you World of Warcraft…) Upon explaining the spell restrictions clerics have regarding reversed spells, Spencer decides to be Lawful after all, so he can use the healing spells as his default. Elfy Jr. on the other hand? Chaotic (apparently because elves don’t believe in God…where’s Father Dave? We need to do something about these heathen children!).
#7 You Can Tell A LOT About A PC By His Spell Book: When embarking upon our 3rd B/X adventure (Total Party Kills did NOT deter these guys in the slightest…reminds me of MY younger days), it was decided players would be allowed to create higher level characters due to the difficulty of the adventure. Man, were they stoked to pick out more spells! Here is how the spell casters rolled in our group:
Elfy (1st level Elf): Charm Person
Elfy Jr. (2nd level Elf): Charm Person, Magic Missile (both were used to great effect before the adventure concluded).
Elfy III (7th level Elf): 1st – Charm Person, Magic Missile, Ventriloquism; 2nd – ESP, Phantasmal Force; 3rd – Invisibility 10’ Radius, Fly; 4th – Polymorph Self
What? No fireball? No lightning bolt? No sleep?! Nope, but charm person was cast in every single session and both 3rd level spells were used (and to great effect) before the end of the Black Rock Island adventure.
I was surprised he knew what “polymorph” was…but then, he’s a big Harry Potter fan.
#8 Old War Stories Alive and Well: Z. continued to talk about how “boss” his old Thief character had been (this being a D4 hit dice thief of 1st or 2nd level). He had school or I’m sure we could have enticed him to the table.
#9 High Level Play is Cool: The kids were fairly impressed with the draft copy of my B/X Companion and thought the idea of characters going up to level 36 was totally badass. They also liked the illustrations a lot. “I want to be that guy” (regarding the black orc bruiser). “Is that plate mail? Cool!” and “Why does the death knight have horns?” I’ll have to get ‘em a copy once it’s completed.
#10 Always Be Prepared: I had not really anticipated playing D&D when I packed for my trip, but I had my books along in order to do some “work” on the computer. And, yes, I DID have an extra set of dice with me…I guess there’s still a bit of that Boy Scout training stowed away in the ‘ol noggin. It was a spanking good time for everyone with a lot of laughter and wa-hoo moments as well as grim and hideous death for nearly all the PCs. Thank goodness B/X character gen was so short and sweet…down-time for character loss was extremely minimal.
***FINAL NOTES ON WHAT I LEARNED***
B/X is definitely a good “gateway RPG” into the role-playing hobby. Simple enough that anyone can learn, but structured enough that no one has a problem playing, and “rules light” enough that you can do most anything you want with the engine…at least in small scale.
Compared to AD&D (or later editions), B/X spell use is fairly limited. A 7th level magic-user only has eight spells for example. However, the simplicity of the game allows the DM to handle larger parties, with NPCs and multi-PC players, and with enough bodies you have PLENTY of “magical power.”
Kids whose main/only intro to fantasy RPGs is an MMORPG like World of Warcraft have difficulty with non-video game type challenges, pure and simple. They do NOT lack imagination…they’ve just been programmed (no pun intended) to play a certain, simplified way. And NPCs in D&D don’t have those big “quest” ?s or !s floating over their heads, you know?
At one point, the PCs discovered a magic statue that asked a riddle. Answering the riddle correctly opened a door, missing it sprayed everyone with a damaging acid/poison. While I consider the riddle fairly simple, (“I am so fragile, say my name and I am broken…what am I?”) they were absolutely stumped for 20-30 minutes. Fortunately, they could also break the statue to open the door…however, I had to suggest this idea as well.
I think solving these kinds of puzzles is an acquired skill…like the ability to do a crossword you have to practice and train your brain a bit. This is the kind of thing I want to see MORE of within adventure modules, not less.
Finally, the D6 damage for all weapons, D4 for daggers, and double strength bonus for two-handers was a great, great system. I plan on using it in all my games from now on. ALSO, the N1 “house rule” that characters reduced to 0 could be knocked out (and captured) rather than killed was also neat, so long as ample opportunities were given for clever characters to escape/overcome their captors (knocked out characters awaken with 1D4 hit points). It turns back-stabbing thieves from assassins into black-jack packing sucker-punchers.
Due to the excellence of the universal (D6) damage system, I’m considering installing a rather radical house-rule with respect to magic weapons. Instead of giving a bonus to both attack and damage, the “+” of a weapon will modify the attack roll (as normal) and increase the dice used for damage. It works like this:
Normal Sword (or warhammer, or whatever) – 1D6 damage
Sword +1 – 1D8 damage, +1 to attack roll
Sword +2 – 1D10 damage, +2 to attack roll
Sword +3 – 1D12 damage, +3 to attack roll
This allows players to use all their differently shaped dice (which is fun), gives magic weapons a real whopping potential for damage (possibly doubling what would be the normal damage roll), while also leaving the possibility of a minimal roll (after all, not every successful attack is with the enchanted edge of one’s magic blade…sometimes you’re just thumping someone with a fist full of steel). I don’t feel particularly bad about increasing the damage output of magic weapons as A) it will shorten fights between high level characters and tough monsters, B) B/X damage bonuses from high strength is already slim compared to AD&D counterparts, C) the AVERAGE damage inflicted is no greater than that of a universal D6 weapon with the appropriate bonus (for example: a D6 sword averages 3.5 damage; D6+1 averages 4.5 which is the same as D8, etc.).
When using this rule, I would not allow weapons beyond the +3 range, though “slayer” type weapons (+1, +4 versus dragons or whatever), might bump the damage category up one additional step to 1D20 against the specific enemy type ONLY.