Monday, September 20, 2010

More Praise For the B/X Companion


This was a nice little email I received today:

Hey JB,
I just wanted to tell you that your B/X Companion *rocks*. It’s my favorite Old School Renaissance product yet. I can’t tell you enough how impressed I was with the overall writing, design, art, and “feel” of the product. I hope that you’ll be producing more product in the future.
Best regards,
Alexander Macris
Publisher, The Escapist


[the emphasis was added by Mr. Macris, not myself]

You know, when I read things like this, it just makes me want to churn out more stuff. I mean, as long as people like what I'm pushing, I'll keep doing it.

However, I can't emphasize express enough gratitude and appreciation for the positive reinforcement. I know there are some folks who will buy Old School product just out of curiosity, or to "support the cause," or to "stick it to the man" (the latter is why I keep buying copies of Labyrinth Lord and giving it away...after all, I still use my actual B/X books at the game table!). And, of course, my mom bought a copy of my book 'cause, well...'cause she's my mom.

But when people actually LIKE what you've written...well, that's pretty cool.

Maybe I will take my laptop to Spain...22 hours is a lot of quality time to work on the writing projects.
; )

Taking My Show on the Road

Well, not really. I’M hitting the road, and I can be a bit of a “show” but I’m not proselytizing the Good Word or anything.

My wife and I are heading out to Spain for a couple weeks. We have friends in several cities with whom we’ll be staying and we have a wedding to attend as well (yes, some people in Spain DO still get married…though not nearly as often as over on this side of the ocean). It’s my first trip to the Iberian peninsula and I’m excited to go…wine, tapas, castles, and a mix of culture and history many centuries old, how could I not be? Plus, we’ll be visiting Toledo which is a bit of a historic Mecca for a sword aficionado like myself (or so I’ve been led to believe).

[yes, yes, I’ve blogged much about the axe being my favorite fantasy weapon, but the sword…the real, historical sword…has always held a special place in my heart. Something that even years of distasteful “sport fencing” (not to mention shot-to-hell-knees) has been unable to spoil. Thank goodness!]

So Spain: a couple weeks, a whirlwind tour, 5 or so towns…should be lots of fun.

But it means my loyal blog readers will be without my meanderings for a couple-couple. My wife IS urging me to take my laptop, but I suspect she wants to watch DVDs on the plane or something…SHE can check her email on her fancy phone, after all. As of this moment I am 99.9% sure I will be travelling SANS computer.

ALSO, this means I will NOT be in a position to mail out more copies of the B/X Companion. I am still taking orders (believe me, I still want your money!) but any orders made will be delayed at least a few days getting out the door. I CAN have my brother put a couple in the mail for me (much as I prefer to do my own quality control, he knows the drill), but I have to email him with the addresses and customs info. My advice: if you want a copy, best order it by MIDNIGHT TONIGHT so I can get it out in the mail Tuesday morning…otherwise, you should probably wait till October 1st to place your order.

In the past, my trips to Europe have always involved me writing copious amounts (go figure) in a personal journal purchased expressly for each individual trip. However, that was before I had a long-running blog, a published book, or a new-found enthusiasm for game writing. Generally speaking, 44 hours of flight time (round trip) sounds like pure writing heaven to me…but I’d hate for something to happen to my electronic device on the trip and lose EVERYING I’ve worked on over the last year…and I doubt I’ll have a chance to back up the entire enchilada prior to leaving (hell, I’m going to be packing tonight…and I still have to work ten hours tomorrow!).

Ugh. Maybe I’ll just take a notebook and pencil. Man, my brother’s right: I AM an “old man!” Jeez.

Anyhoo, that’s the news. Blogging will be slow to non-existent for a bit, but I SHALL return…Autumn is my favorite time of year in Seattle, and I want to get back in time to enjoy all its wet and musty October glory. Plus, I’ve got Seahawks games to attend!

: )

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Some Notes...and Some Philosophy

RE Thursday Night's Session

Hmm...four sessions at the Baranof...plus a "pseudo-session" at my house. Three players. Seven characters. Seven character deaths.

De-briefing (decompressing, I like to call it) after Thursday night's session, I once again found it a bit odd that everyone had a good time and intended to come back for more, besides getting killed off. I mean, it's not like I'm running S1:Tomb of Horrors, right? Just B2...you know, an introductory adventure for characters level 1-3? The guys haven't even fought an owl bear or anything.

Life as an adventurer is hard...pure and simple. Sure it beats working on the farm, and pays better than apprenticing to the local candlestick maker, but it's damn dangerous. "Feast or famine," as they say...except the famine part is actually "grim and painful death." So far, everyone that's died in B2 has been put down by cannibalistic monsters, so you KNOW most of their bodies ended up in the stew-pot (the heroic man-at-arms, Mac, is the only one who managed to get a decent burial...you think Bud worried about hauling six bodies out of the Caves after the ogre fiasco? No way, Jose!).

Here's the thing, the players talked about it and KNEW they could have done better than they did. They could have run. They could have tried to bribe the ogre with food or treasure (that's what the goblins did after all). The elf could have cast charm person at the giant humanoid. Hell, I don't know...maybe it was afraid of fire (like the Frankenstein monster)...would some flaming oil or a torch waved under its nose caused it to panic?

Could running have been an option after the first character died? How about the second? Or the third?

I know Steve-O kept waiting for his gnoll buddy to come back, but the gnoll was chasing goblins deep into their warren...for all I know he was killed by the chief and his bodyguards (who the escaping guards had went to warn)...regardless, the "fight" (more like "the slaughter") was over in a handful of rounds, and it would have taken the gnoll more than a turn to come back. And seeing his "master" slain, he probably would have killed and eaten the last, lone man-at-arms anyway.

All that XP and treasure being left on the table...what a waste.

Luke actually suggested that I could have "fudged" the rolls with the ogre. Wha-wha-what?! Fudged?

You're kidding right?

Actually, I bit my tongue and didn't say anything of the sort. After all, here's a guy who's been acting as a dungeon master for the last several years, generally with the latest editions of D&D...games that scream to keep players alive if only so you don't have to go through the several hour process of creating a new character.

And besides that, I HAVE fudged dice rolls before...as a Dungeon Master. Even in the old days, when playing Old School D&D...you know, 1st edition AD&D? While I can't remember any specific instances I'm sure...like 99.9% sure...that I fudged dice rolls to allow players to survive...both encounters and traps.

But I don't want to do that anymore. There are a couple reasons why.

For one thing, fudging rolls is a bit of a slippery slope: where does it stop? I mean, you want character death to be "on the table" (at least, I do), after all...it makes the risk/reward dynamic more poignant. But who gets saved and who doesn't? And how many times before someone's number is finally up?

For the DM to make that decision means the grossest exercise of DM fiat. And, yes, one could do random tables to act as "get out of jail free" cards...like one of the various Death & Dismemberment tables put forward by various blogs. But I don't really want an additional table...especially one involving extra math determined by the extent of that final blow. Hit points are reduced to 0, character dies. It's tough, I know it's tough, but it's the way the game is written, right? I can think of a couple ways off the top of my head to soften it, but let's get to my second reason why I'm against fudging.

I don't think it's necessary.

Really...I don't think it's needed in order to ensure characters survive. I think that adventuring parties, appropriately equipped and on-their-toes sharp CAN survive...and thrive...even at 1st level.

Really, truly. The game is hard. And maybe Gygax was a psycho-bitch of a Dungeon Master to craft adventures where, "oh here are our 1st level characters fighting goblins and oh wait a huge ass ogre wades in and beats the living snot out of all of us."

Sure...if there had been a magic-user with the wonderful sleep spell, the ogre would have gone down like a sack of bricks...but who's to say the party wouldn't have used sleep to knock-out the half-dozen goblins? Who's to say a goblin spear (D6 damage) wouldn't have killed the 1st level mage (D4 hit points)?

Sometimes, the game IS a bit of a crapshoot...but one has got to do everything in his or her power to maximize the odds and take advantage of the situation.

I just keep thinking back to the on-line game hosted by DM Pat Armstrong in which I played a low-level cleric. We took out a damn cockatrice...and insta-kill monster and a 4 or 5 hit dice monster...with zero casualties. But half-a-dozen 2 hit dice troglodytes wiped out most of our (full strength) adventuring party, including my cleric...and I KNEW that was going to happen. I knew it was a bad idea to engage those scaly f***ers and I could have beat feet out of there if I wasn't inclined to be some sort of damn hero/"team player" at the time.

Up till that point, my character PERSONALLY was doing quite well...it was either our 2nd or 3rd session and I'd already acquired quite a stash of treasure and a magical artifact. I didn't have to die then and there! But I screwed up, and took a very un-wise risk and I paid the price.

And, no, I don't think it's necessary to play the game cowardly nor particularly mercenary in order to survive...you just need to be SMART. If Joachim had not charmed the gnoll first, do I think Hensvik would have allowed the elf to un-chain it? Hell, no! He wouldn't even free an orc, despite the fact the PCs could probably have easily handled a single orc that decided to turn on them. Would Thundarr and Cain have died if the two hadn't been divided and conquered? Maybe...but it would have been a lot LESS likely.

My players' characters have perished through mis-adventure...that doesn't mean they're not learning to be more cagey and inventive. It doesn't mean "trust no one;" how many blogs have I read where people talk about B2 and how, "boy, my players would NEVER team up with the evil cleric...they kill anyone that tries to be friendly, they're so paranoid!" Those players would probably have put the crazed gnoll to the sword rather than attempt to turn him into a useful tool/weapon...and the latter tactic was a pretty darn good one if you ask me. It was only other missteps that prevented the players from capitalizing on it.

Anyway, my point is: I don't think I need to fudge jack-shit. I know dice rolls are random, and sometimes those random results suck (and random results that "don't make sense" should of course be discarded...like when the elf rolled that he was the cousin of the dwarf on my Random Relationship table). Chargen is NOT so hard or tedious that it's a burden to make up new characters when necessary...and low-level players CAN survive with a little care and ingenuity...as well as the occasional ballsy or brazen maneuver.

By the way, while Luke had to go home to his family after Thursday's game, AB and Steve did insist on rolling up new characters then and there for the next session. Steve (who does not read my blog at all) created a Halfling, and was pretty excited by the prospect. Finally someone who's truly excellent at the whole knife-throwing shtick. His name is Roderick, he has a short, attachable hood, and pretty darn good ability scores (including a Strength of 16 and a Dexterity of 14), as well as plenty of gold to spend, unlike his last two characters.

My brother rolled up a thief with less than optimal ability scores, but a Dexterity of 16. He's bare-headed but has an (amazing) curly mane of hair, and the required thief mustache and stubble. His name is Blarth.

Unfortunately, EVERYONE is going to have to wait to try out their new characters. My wife and I are leaving for Spain in the next two days, and we won't be back for a couple weeks. Yep, the ol' B/X Blackrazor Blog will be going down 'round about Tuesday folks. Though I might toss up a couple posts while I'm in Europe.
; )

Back to the Caves of Chaos (Part III)

[continued from here]

In addition to feasting the PCs like heroes (which they were), and giving the party the promised sack of gold, the merchant's wife presented the adventurers with an additional gift...a magical dagger of exquisite manufacture, able to wound even enchanted creatures.

[yes, it was only a +1 dagger, but that didn't mean the players didn't want it...after all, if all weapons do D6 damage, that's going to be a tasty weapon.

By the way, early on in the session, Steve-o asked if he received some sort of bonus due to his equipment being made out of "the finest elvish steel." Besides breaking us all up, it became a bit of a running joke. "Is the goblin knife any good?" "Well, it's not forged from elvish steel..." Despite elvish steel not actually COUNTING for anything, it became a bit of a mark of PRESTIGE for those who owned it. And in a way, I think this made Steve even happy about having the least equipment of any other player...sure he had only chain mail, sword & dagger...but it was all made of ELVISH STEEL]

The party was unanimous in allowing Lando to take possession of the knife, since he was already using knife and buckler as his armament of choice (and, perhaps, because they were afraid Jaochim would simply throw it away if given to him). The merchant was willing to purchase the silver armband for a fair price, and the party split the profit three-ways. After that, the party was ready to go shopping.

At the blacksmith: "I have a really, um, large friend...do you have any armor that would fit someone that's like 7'6"? That chain tunic...can you 'let it out' a bit? My friend is really big..."

At the trader: "What's the biggest shield you've got? 15 gold pieces?! What's smaller? Okay...I'll take the door with the arm strap."

The trader was the real gouger of the bunch. The party was determined to purchase arms and equipment for the new men-at-arms, Gene and Bud. G&B had promised their services for a year, free-of-charge, if only the party would supply them with gear. But the Keep's trader, being "the only game in town," so-to-speak was determined to milk as much of the party's newfound wealth as possible with 50%+ price hikes.

It felt like I was running the playbook according to Hackmaster's advice to Dungeon Masters.
; )

They did get Gene and Bud outfitted, and while they weren't able to find any armor that would fit the gnoll...oh, yeah, I forgot to mention the gnoll's name was Witherdrool...they did pick up a large shield for the creature. Witherdrool was most pleased.

"Thank you, master," the monster hissed when he was presented with the shield.

Back to the Caves of Chaos...and once again back into the goblin caves. This time the party decided to break their own rule: "We're going to go RIGHT this time." The party decided that heading left and going back to the hobgoblin caves was unacceptable...the hobs were "too tough," and had put up too hard a fight. They figured the right-hand passage (where Thundarr and Caindong had met their doom) might prove to have easier critters worth fighting.

Maybe.

Although the party went right, they took the first left-hand passage that presented itself. A turn and a turn brought them to a familiar dead end...old blood stains spattered the walls and knotty piece of wood - a two-handed war club - lay discarded against the wall. The party was undeterred, however, and retraced their path back to the main passage.

The next chamber was a nest of goblins...half-a-dozen guardsmen were caught off guard as the adventurers charged in weapons swinging. Two goblins fell immediately before the adventurers' blades, although Reed went down beneath a thrust spear, and the goblins broke and ran. Two fled through the opposite exit, and Joachim wasted no time in sending Witherdrool after them. "Go get 'em!"

"Yes, master..."

The final two goblins turned to what appeared to be a stone wall ("A secret door!" shouted the players) and started pounding on it, yelling "Invaders! Invaders!" The adventurers stepped forward and cut them down from behind, Joachim and Lando dealing the death blows.

"Well, that was easy..."

A grinding noise announced the opening of the "secret door" (really a boulder that had been pushed across an opening of the cave). The adventurers braced for anything, but otherwise took no action as they waited in anticipation of what was about to push through the newly-opened cave mouth.

An f'ing ogre.

Joachim, bloodied sword in hand was directly in front of the creature. "Can I try to talk to it?" Do you know ogre? "No." Checking Reaction, I rolled a 3...the ogre was in no mood to talk. "F*** it...we attack."


Only the witch-hunter was able to find the ogre with his enchanted dagger. With a roar the ogre lashed out, pulverizing rib and organ and knocking him across the chamber in a heap. I handed over Gene and Bud to AB for control (oh, forgot to mention earlier: Lara the elf abandoned the party after they had failed to give her a share of the treasure from their last expedition. "Well it's not like she did anything anyway...").

The elf cut into the behemoth with his fine elvish steel...and the ogre bought down his club, crushing the life from the elf. AB handed Steve-O the use of "Bud."

I know I haven't mentioned Hensvik in awhile but the dwarf was involved the entire time...he just completely failed to hit anything at all. About the 3rd round of combat, though, he was able to land a telling blow on the ogre...and draw the ire of the monster...WHAM!

Hensvik was not felled by the blow...but the creature's follow-up back-hand in the next round claimed his life.

Meanwhile Gene and Bud were laying into the creature desperately...Gene was the next one to fall, mangled and bloody. Alone, out-gunned, but not un-manned, Bud managed to deliver one more stab to the ogre for 1 point of damage...enough to drop the monster, finally.

Does it count as a TPK, if there's still an NPC man-at-arms left?


***EDIT: Just realized that this IS my post #666. I suppose it's fitting that it details the "Beast" that got the party's "Number!"***

Back to the Caves of Chaos (Part II)

[continued from here]

With a dwarvish war cry, Hensvik charged the larger hobgoblin to the left ("Always go left") whose whip whistled harmlessly over his candled helmet. Reed and Mac followed close behind, dropping torches to the ground, and drawing their blades.

Lando charged the hobgoblin on the right. "C'mon!" he yelled to Joachim, who surreptitiously drew his dagger and hurled it, hoping to end the fight quickly. It whistled past the ear of the hobgoblin, and Lara and Chuck berated the elf telling him he was blocking their way into the chamber. Joachim drew his own dagger, cursing the balance of the curved goblin knife, and widened his stance.

A clash of steel from the left! The dwarf's axe blows resounded on the heavy chain shirt of the hobgoblin, who was deft in his deflection of Reed's clumsy blows. Only Mac was able to break through the monster's defense, scoring a long laceration on the creature's arm. The hobgoblin turned his attention on the grizzled man-at-arms, and rung blow after blow on the human's shield.

Lando was having no luck with the 2nd hobgoblin, but was at least able to keep the monster's own blade from finding his flesh. A second thrown knife nearly clipped the witch-hunter, but sliced the hobgoblin's ear! "Stop throwing those damn knives!" he bawled at his companion. The elf drew his own sword and charged.

Nearly 30 seconds had passed since the combat was joined, and the trio of adventurers were hard pressed by their larger opponent. The red light of the chamber gleamed on the hobgoblin's blade as a tremendous blow clove Mac's helm in twain, sending the man-at-arms to meet his maker.

In the other corner of the chamber, the deft swordwork of Joachim was finding home again and again in the 2nd hobgoblin. A final cunning lunge placed the sword tip in the monster's heart, and it let out a bellow as it sunk to its knees. Barely pausing for breath, the pair turned from their fallen foe and pounded across the chamber to the aid of their comrades.

Surrounded, the beast decided to sell itself dearly. However, the adventurers never gave it a chance. Hensvik and Reed drove the hobgoblin back, while Lando slashed across the creature's chest, and Joachim drove his blade into the creature's back, ending its life.

[we all found it amusing that after "wasting" a bunch of attacks throwing knives...what can I say, Steve likes throwing knives?... Steve's elf managed to get the killing blow on BOTH hobgoblins. Luke was a little distressed at his string of missed attack rolls, despite his being the only character that received a bonus to hist attack rolls for his 16 strength]

The party immediately went to see to the welfare of the chained prisoners; two of the PCs were, after all, Lawful (Hensvik and Joachim). The humans - including a plump merchant, his wife, and their two bodyguards - were a no-brainer. The orc was likewise a no-brainer. "We ain't freeing him," stated Hensvik, point-blank. The dwarf was putting his foot down, despite the orcs attempt at appealing to their mercy and his promises to help them kill goblins if they'd only free him and arm him.

The gnoll was another matter. Obviously less-than-sane, the think appeared to be raving and drooling, straining its mighty thews (it was larger than either hobgoblin) at the chains. Joachim was intrigued.

[the B2 description, by the way, states that if the crazed gnoll is freed, he'll immediately attack the party]

"Can I speak his language?" Steve-O asked. As a matter of fact, B/X elves do speak gnoll for some unknown reason (does anyone know the justification for this?).

"All right, I want to cast charm person on him."

And the charm goes off without a hitch, the gnoll becoming docile and subservient to the charismatic (and ballsy) elf. "How may I serve you, my master..."

The freed mercenaries were ready to pledge their loyalty, too, if only the players would arm them and get them out of the caves in one piece. "Can you use a whip?" asked Joachim gesturing to the fallen hobgoblin. Shaking their heads, the Elf gave them the goblin spear and curved knife recovered earlier. Meanwhile, the gnoll had already wielding a blood-stained sword pulled from the grip of a dead hobgoblin. "I can use a whip, my master..."

"Oh, good!" Hensvik and Lando were starting to look a little leery at the lumbering humanoid, now fully armed and deadly, but Joachim was positively stoked at the turn of events.

They looted the hobgoblins for a handful of coins (including electrum, which AB and Steve-O had been most extremely curious about ever since I first explained the B/X exchange rate...they squabbled a bit over who got the electrum, and Hensvik was gracious enough to allow them to divide the strange coins between them), and a carved silver armband that looked to be worth a nice chunk of change. Since the merchant was also offering the adventurers 100 gp to get him and his wife back to the Keep, the party decided it was time to leave the Caves.

The Lawful Hensvik also insisted they bring Mac's body back to the Keep, for proper burial and to see that his worldly possessions made it into the hands of his next-of-kin. The neutral Lando (AB) was not too enthused by this, but went along with it. After all, the dwarf had a 16 strength and was willing to walk a point...plus they had enough "help" (with the new men-at-arms) to carry the body.

Steve-O had taken over mapping duties and done a good job, so there was no issue finding their way out.

Back at the Keep, Joachim had his new "friend" wait outside in the wilderness. "The soldiers at the Keep might not understand, pal."

"I shall await your return, my master..."

"I'll try to find you some armor," the elf promised.
: )






Saturday, September 18, 2010

Back to the Caves of Chaos (Part I)

No more goblins.

This I had decided even before I got down to Baranof's Thursday night for my 4th session of B/X D&D and beer. Had decided even before I got home from work that day, in fact.

Why? 'Cause I'm sick of 'em.

For those who've never played B2: Keep on the Borderlands, or for those who haven't played/owned it in a number of years, please allow me to (briefly) explain: the Caves of Chaos (the "dungeon" of B2) is actually a number of small cave complexes set into a box canyon. You enter the canyon and can see cave openings dotting the cliff walls at various levels on all sides.

Various humanoid tribes, as well as a few non-tribal beasties, lair within these caves...all the usual ones found in your average low level adventure. You know the ones I'm talking about: orcs, kobolds, hobgoblins, bugbears, etc. As is usual in any Chaotic hierarchy, shit rolls downhill...consequently, the weaker monsters make their homes in the caves lower down on the cliff face.

So the cave mouth lowest down and closest to the mouth of the canyon is the home for some of the weakest creatures: goblins.

What this means, of course, is that any party of 1st level characters invading the caves inevitably starts their expedition with the goblin warren. After running B2 a half dozen times over the last year or so, I've done nothing but fight players with goblins...over and over again.

I'm sick of it and I'm not doing it anymore.

Despite the goblins holding their own against Thundarr and Caindong, I was not about to run the same damn thing yet again, so I decided to change it up a bit.

I'd actually made this determination PRIOR to meeting our 3rd player, Luke. Luke, having long been a Dungeon Master (for every edition of D&D!) was already "well familiar" with B2. How familiar, I can only guess...but the thing is straight-forward enough with a rather limited "bag of tricks" so I'm not too worried about his knowledge of "spoilers." I mean, yeah, of course there are goblins...it's an introductory adventure for 1st level characters.

So Joachim, Lando, and Hensvik found themselves at the Caves of Chaos just as the sun was setting. Searching around the canyon floor, they found the remains of a recent campsite, along with the remains of some group's last meal...apparently roast buzzard. Hensvik really didn't want to spend the night on the canyon floor, fearing the nocturnal inhabitants of the caves would come out looking for a tasty snack. However, Joachim was unable to find handholds in the fading light (Steve failed his Dexterity check by a lot, and I decided I didn't want anyone falling to their death so early in the session...ahh, DM fiat), so they were left with little choice in the matter. They pulled back into the woods and refused to build a fire, instead setting three watches with the infravision-equipped demihumans (recall, they also had an NPC elf along with them).

The night passed uneventfully and the next day they were able to tackle the cliffs by the full light of day.

"There's an old dwarvish proverb," announched Hensvik, "Always go left. Let's explore the first cave on our left, the lowest down."

Well, what do ya' know...once again the party was decided to tackle the Same Damn Goblin Caves.

Climbing to the cave mouth 25' up, Joachim lowered the party's only 50' rope to help the others out. "I'm the only one that bothered to buy a rope?!" Lando looked incredulously at his compatriots.

"I forgot," said Hensvik.

"I'm broke," said Joachim.

Hensvik thought they should keep the rope tied off to the cave entrance in case they needed to make a fast escape (rather than jumping 25' to their deaths). Lando was against leaving the party's only rope tied back at the cave entrance. Joachim suggested just pounding some iron spikes into the all and keeping the rope looped and knotted such that they could quickly slip it around the spikes and rappel down the cliff face if necessary. Everyone agreed this was a good idea and Joachim borrowed Hensvik's spikes and started pounding them into the cave wall.

*TING*TING*TING*TING*TING*

The ringing of hammer on spike echoed ominously back from the cave tunnels. Everyone looked at each other in horror...but nothing appeared to shred them.

Hensvik put a candle on his helmet and led the way, followed by two mercs with torches, Joachim and Lando, then the 3rd merc and Lara the elf. "Always go left," intoned the dwarf as they set out down the left-hand path.

And almost immediately came a goblin guard room. Filled with slaughtered goblins.

Hmmm...

The party attempted to loot the bodies, but there wasn't much that was salvageable. A cruelly serrated goblin knife and one useable spear. Neither Lando nor Hensvik wanted any truck with goblin weapons, but Joachim thought the weapons might be handy and picked them up.

The next chamber they came to was a "common room" that had once been the main residence of the goblin folks. Now it was a charnel house, filled with dead goblins...many of them females and young. The party half-heartedly picked through the bodies finding nothing of value. They were all starting to get a bit uneasy at this point.

The only exit was through a wooden door that had been hacked apart and broken down from the other side...someone or something had invaded the goblin caves, wiping out the creatures and taking anything of any worth. The party decided to push forward.

Up a flight of stairs carved out of the stone, then another, then a long, long corridor. A split in the tunnel forced the party to follow their own proverb ("always go left") and around the corner they could see an eerie red glow. The party readied weapons and continued forward.

[surprise rolls; everyone failed]

A torture chamber! Gruesome in every detail...bloody instruments, hot irons, struggling victims in chains...the whole nine.

And two enormous hobgoblins...as surprised to see the party as the party was to see them.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Just In Case Anyone Missed This Exchange...


RE: B/X Halflings kicking the ass of the AD&D halfling fighter-thief.

Will wrote:

I call foul. None of this BECMI attack rank stuff or optional rules from fan publications. Pure B/X halfling versus pure AD&D halfling only.

Plus, we all know the thief would sneak right up and open with a big backstab anyway. :)


So here's the real skinny folks: no BECMI, no B/X Companion. My halfling gets nothing but the Basic and Expert set rules (typos and all) versus the AD&D fighter-thief, in all its glory.

8th level Halfling, AC 2, HPs 29, Strength 13 (all else average), D6 damage

Fighter-Thief, AC 8, Strength 12, Dexterity 14 (all else 13), D8 damage. Maximum fighter level is 4th, of course. No we're not going to be nice and give him a 17 strength.

The fighter-thief's average damage per round (DPR) is 1.125 against the B/X Halfling. With 29 hit points under his belt, it will take the fighter-thief 26 rounds to kill the Sheriff in a one-on-one fight.

The B/X Halfling's average damage per round (DPR) against the fighter-thief is 3.6. This is calculated from an 80% chance to hit (per the Expert rules, an 8th level Halfling needs a 6 or better to hit AC 8, +1 for the 13 strength) multiplied by his average damage of 4.5 (D6 for all B/X weapons, +1 for the 13 strength). In order for the fighter-thief to survive 27 rounds...the only way to ENSURE he will win the fight, since the Sheriff gets an individual initiative bonus (not available to the AD&D character) and is thus more likely to kill the multi-class character in round 26...in order to last 27 rounds, the fighter-thief will need at least 94 hit points.

That means he'll need to be level 4th / 43rd. That's 43rd level thief...which requires an experience point total of 14,520,002. Fucking ridiculous. Yes...your fighter-thief WILL be more powerful IF YOU HAVE 121 TIMES AS MANY EXPERIENCE POINTS.

But, hey...what about that whole backstab thing?

Well, leaving aside the whole "fair fight" question (and who's to say my halfling with his 90% chance to vanish into the underbrush wouldn't get the drop on the cowardly fighter-thief?)...LEAVING aside that question, WHAT IF we spot the pansy fighter-thief a free attack?

Well, assuming he's at least a 13th level thief, that's quintuple damage in AD&D. He also receives a +4 bonus to hit AND the halfling loses his shield bonus. His average damage from such an attack will thus be 11.25 (50% chance to hit X 4.5 average damage X five), reducing the stalwart Sheriff's hit points from 29 to 17.75.

The AD&D character will then be in a fight for his life. It will STILL take him another 16 rounds to finish my B/X character. He'll need to have at least 58 hit points himself to sustain the onslaught of my 8th level character. That means, on average, he'll need to be AT LEAST level 4th / 25th.

That's a total of 6,600,002 experience points. Only 55 TIMES the number needed for the B/X thief to reach 8th level (120,000). Wouldn't that mean the B/X Halfling is 55 times as powerful as the fighter-thief?

What does that say to you? To ME, it confirms that the very IDEA the AD&D halfling fighter-thief is more powerful than the B/X Halfling is patently ridiculous. Even giving him a surprise attack with QUINTUPLE damage, the AD&D character is probably a dead f'ing duck, except in the highest level AD&D campaigns.

An Epic Level character...to take out an 8th level Halfling?

I don't know if folks are insane or just ignorant. Leave the thieving to the thieves, and be proud to play the Halfling character. Jeez...I don't know what else I can say here.


Bandwagon Post: MY Image of Dungeons & Dragons

When someone mentions Dungeons & Dragons, THIS is the image that comes first to my mind's eye:




Even though this wasn't my introduction to the game, even though this wasn't my first D&D book, even though NOW I play exclusively B/X D&D...this is my book.

It may have to do with coveting this book for so long as a kid (my friend owned it and I did not for probably a year...even though I was our group's Dungeon Master)...or maybe because, once I did own a copy, I carried it with me for years. Even after 2nd edition came out, I DID start/run a couple D&D games...and it was always 1st edition AD&D...and this was always my tome of choice.

Even though I owned TWO DMGs (including the 1985 re-print cover), this is the one to which I always defaulted. For whatever reason, this is the image that's been seared on soul...despite preferring other systems...and even other cover pieces!...intellectually. This is the book that sings to me, for whatever reason.

But, hey...you asked!
; )

Getting Crowded at the Baranof

[note to self: this is post #661...I really should think of doing something cool for #666 coming up!...hmmm...]

Last night was session #4 down at Baranof's. I say that like I'm running a campaign or something (like JM's Dwimmermount sessions)...when it's really just been four meet-ups for B/X D&D play with Yours Truly acting as Dungeon Master.

[ahh...just like the Good Ol' Days...]

Well, I would like "the Baranof sessions" to turn into a true D&D campaign...I'm not sure if we have the right mix/chemistry of players just yet. However, I won't say it hasn't been fun, because, gosh darn it, it's been A LOT of fun. Probably too much (next week I am limiting my beer intake...I'm no twenty-something kid anymore...).

Last night saw me GMing my largest game group in ten years: three players, including one completely new stranger.

Wow.

Yeah, ten years...back before I was married I ran a short-lived Ars Magica saga that included four or five players, and I ran Vampire campaigns in college that had more like eight or nine. Hmm...actually, I HAVE run a couple indie games in the last four or five years that had three players, but GM duties get shared in games like InSpectres and it feels more like "group management" rather than running a game.

I haven't acted as a Dungeon Master for that many players since 2000 or so...though since the last time I had 3 players playing D20 all that happened was we spent the entire GodDamn session making characters, no "play" ever actually occurred.

This particular session saw a lot less action than prior ones as AB, Steve-O, and I all spent time getting to know "the new guy," Luke. A transplant to our fair city from Missouri, he's a computer-savvy guy with Labyrinth Lord on his IPad and a set of very nice Game Science dice. he seemed to enjoy himself well enough (despite achieving yet another Total Party Kill...don't worry, I'll get to that), that he intends to come back next Thursday, and may even bring a friend or two. He works in a tech field and appears to know a lot of "ex-gamers" but he wanted to check us out first to make sure we weren't "assholes."

[I'm glad we passed muster!]

Luke states he's played every edition of D&D, including the 4th (I don't hold it against him), though he has mostly run games as a Dungeon Master himself. It's always interesting to DM a regular DM, and can be a tricky business. He actually reminded me somewhat of how I roll when sitting in on another dude's game...polite, observant, trying NOT to be a rules lawyer but rather asking polite questions when I seem to be "going off the reservation."

For example, he was a little disconcerted that I rolled all the damage dice for the game. I had to explain to him this wasn't a house rule.

Page B25:

DAMAGE

If an attack hits, the DM must determine how much damage the attack has done.

Anyhoo, he was a little uncomfortable with this. Or as he put it, "it's usually faster when players are adding their own bonuses and such." Maybe, but I'm used to playing with numbskulls that are new to the game, or extremely rusty.

[yes, I just called my players numbskulls...I guess I AM an asshole]

Speaking of Steve, I did find out that his introduction to the game was, in fact, 2nd edition AD&D (ha! see? I knew it!). His main memory of the game was the big "Monster Compendium" binder. When they got bored with trying to figure out how to play, they just picked monsters out of the binder to work as characters. Steve's was a red dragon (by the way, Steve is a month older than me, so he would have been 16 at the time being DM'd by a 13 year old).

Ugh.

Anyway, back to Baranof's...when last the group met (Friday at my house), we had run B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, killed everyone, and made some new characters: an Elf named Joachim and a Witch-Hunter named Lando. I had planned on adopting my new combat house rules regarding damage...but rather than confuse Luke any further we just stuck to the following:

- all weapons do D6 damage
- two-handed weapons add +1 to damage

In other words, the standard B/X rules except that you get a slight damage bonus for using a two-handed weapon. Or as my brother put it:

"So the exact same as before except you nerfed our two-handed weapons."

Yeah. That's about the size of it.

However, no one was using a two-handed weapon and only Luke's character had any kind of strength bonus anyway.

Oh, right! Luke's character...he rolled up a fairly decent set of abilities and decided to go with a Dwarf. Having spent a bit of time at Ikea lately, he felt inspired to name the character Hensvik (and I confess that although I'm usually pretty good with names, I had to ask for this name again and again all night...I often just called him "Dwarf," which made me FEEL like an asshole, even if I wasn't trying to be one!). Hensvik's headgear: a classic viking helm, which we all felt was appropriate, though there was some debate over whether or not this included horns. I, of course, am big on my Norse lore and pointed out that a viking helm only has horns in Minnesota...however, my players pointed out the entry was a "classic" helmet, NOT a "historic" helmet. Over-ruled, I agreed that it was appropriate to include big horns (the whole point of the B/X Headgear is to get people to identify with their character...I believe this was accomplished).

For relationship to other characters, Hensvik and the witch-hunter had met when both were running in the forest trying to escape wild animals. This was amusing if a little curious, but we didn't dwell on the issue too much.

Compared to the other players, Hensvik had a ton of gold and he invested it wisely while saving out plenty to pay for hirelings. Steve and AB explained to Luke their past problems with DYING and attributed it to their inability to hire enough mercenaries...or "meat shields" as my bro' insists on calling them.

Actually, last Friday AB and Steve had already hired a few such meat shields in the form of Reed and Mac (two man-at-arms from the tavern that they had been unable afford previously) and Lara the Elf chick with her sleep spell (Joachin with his 18 charisma and fay good looks had worked a little "elvish magic" on her previously, if you catch my drift). However, starting in the tavern as we were (this was at Steve's insistence: "Start us at the tavern! Start us at the tavern!") Hensvik was able to procure a 3rd man-at-arms, named Chuck.

[you may not think it's important to remember all these NPC dude's names, but it has some slight bearing on later events]

Hensvik also bought a round for the tavern in an attempt to pick up some rumors and the party was introduced to a theme that would begin to resound later in the adventure: damn, what's up with these prices? Everyone's trying to gouge us!

A bit of kabitzing led Steve to the idea that maybe they should try to hire a local kid to be a torch-bearer, but the rest of us shot this down pretty quick: the Keep was a military installation and the only kids around were family members of working residents who would NOT allow their children anywhere near the Caves of Chaos.

So...armed and equipped and stocked with plenty of hirelings, the characters made the foray back to the dungeon that has spelled doom for so many PCs over the years....


Oh, by the way...regarding the title of this post: after the game Luke said he'd be happy to talk to his friends/co-workers and might be able to rustle up another player or two for the game. ALSO, while playing, one of the bar patrons stopped by the table on the way out and expressed interest in joining (being yet another lapsed, closet D&D player living in Greenwood...sheesh!). He said he might stop by next Thursday.

I don't know how many players I'm going to end up with eventually...six? Seven? All I know is that things are getting all "B/X crazy" up here in the Greenwood 'hood.

; )

“Halfling Week” Continues – The B/X Juggernaut!

Would you sacrifice 9 (average) to 18 (maximum) hit points over the entire length of your fighter’s career in exchange for a +2 bonus to all saving throws across the board EXCEPT Dragon Breath? Absolutely. How about for a +1 bonus instead of +2? Yeah, probably.

How about sacrificing the hit points AND limiting the number of weapons to which you have access AND taking a 5-10% hit on earned experience? Hmm…it might still be worth it, though less so if using the optional Variant Weapon Damage rule from the Basic book. If all weapons do D6 (the standard rule) all you lose is access to a few magic weapons.

Meet MY halfling fighter.


HALFLING JUGGERNAUT

Level.....Title.....Experience Points.....Hit Dice

1.....Stout-Heart.....0.....1D6
2.....Bruiser.....2100.....2D6
3.....Skirmisher.....4200.....3D6
4.....Point Guard.....8400.....4D6
5.....Shield Breaker.....17,000.....5D6
6.....Stalwart.....34,000.....6D6
7.....Elite.....68,000.....7D6
8.....Marshall.....130,000.....8D6
9.....Juggernaut.....260,000.....9D6
10.....10th level Juggernaut.....390,000.....9D6+2*
11.....11th level Juggernaut.....520,000.....9D6+4*
12.....12th level Juggernaut.....650,000.....9D6+6*
13.....13th level Juggernaut.....780,000.....9D6+8*
14.....14th level Juggernaut.....910,000.....9D6+10*

*Constitution bonuses no longer apply.


Halfling juggernauts are aberrations…halfling warriors who train day in and day out for battle, pushing themselves to feats of courage and strength that belie their small stature. Though no taller than other halflings, juggernauts often possess 20-30 pounds of extra muscle, and might even be mistaken for small dwarves save they have no beards. Halfling juggernauts generally live outside and apart from normal halfling society, often seeking glory and renown in human lands. However, in times of war, halfling juggernauts often lead their own people in battle, acting as elite force commanders.

The Prime Requisite of a halfling juggernaut is Strength; a juggernaut with a Strength of 13-15 gains an additional +5% on earned experience points, and one with a 16+ Strength gains a +10% bonus. A character must have a minimum Constitution of 9 to be a halfling juggernaut.

RESTRICTIONS: Juggernauts use six-sided dice (d6) to determine their hit points. They may wear any armor and use shield or weapon, provided it has been cut down to their size (in other words, they face the same restrictions as other halfling characters). Halfling juggernauts may achieve a maximum of 30th level of experience. They use the same attack and saving throw tables as fighters (however, see Special Abilities below). They may use any magic item useable by a fighter or halfling.

SPECIAL ABILITIES: Due to the nature of their training and their temperament and love of battle, juggernauts do NOT receive the same special abilities as the halfling class. They have no interest in hiding from their foes, prefer melee to missile combat, and find it dishonorable to use their size to advantage when fighting monsters larger than man-sized. Although juggernauts lose some of the halfling’s natural caution, they are still hardy individuals and receive a +1 bonus to all saving throws except versus dragon breath.

Halfling juggernauts that reach a high level of experience gain the same ability to make multiple melee attacks as a fighter. They may make a total of two attacks at 15th level, three at 23rd, and four attacks at 30th level.

A halfling juggernaut may build a stronghold at any time, provided they can afford it. A juggernaut that has achieved Name (9th) level and built such a structure will attract a cadre of 5-50 (1D10x5) 1st level Stout-Hearts to garrison the fortress, working in exchange for training; juggernauts will otherwise find it difficult to recruit halflings of suitably martial temperament. In general, halfling juggernauts do not establish domains, instead freely offering their services in defense of nearby Halfling communities.

The halfling juggernaut is not suitable for all campaigns.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Mean Streets of Skara Brae

There are some items and events from my past that have effects that carry over even unto the present day…film and fiction from my formative years that STILL impact my imagination and my ideas on both “what’s cool” and what I’d like to see in my gaming. Some of these things are sooo far back in my memory that I can only recall snatches of them…like the black and white serials of The Masked Marvel that I remember watching on TV circa 1975 or ’76 (age 2 or 3 in other words). Just these “remembered flavors” of the past have influence over my psyche…and when I’ve managed to reclaim some of these things (thanks to the magic of eBay or Scarecrow Video, I’ve not been disappointed.

In no particular order, here are some of the items that go into making up MY personality matrix:

Films
- Star Wars
- The Hobbit
- The Last Unicorn
- At the Earth’s Core
(with Peter Cushing)
- The Secret of NIMH
- Dragon Slayer
- Xanadu
(which, strangely enough, did more to encourage an interest in Greek mythology than Clash of the Titans!)

TV
- Sid & Marty Croft stuff, but especially H.R. Puff & Stuff, Land of the Lost, and Dr. Shrinker
- Tales of the Gold Monkey
- The Day After
- Shogun (to a small degree)
- Logan’s Run (ditto)
- The Masked Marvel


[I should note that I’ve watched a lot of TV over the years, including a lot of the “boy fantasy” crap of the 80’s: The Dukes of Hazard, Knight Rider, Buck Rogers, The A-Team, The Hulk, etc…none of this seems to have had a recognizable impact/influence on me]

Books & Comics
- Mainly Marvel comics of the early ‘80s
- Old DC horror comics, westerns (Jonah Hex), and WW2 (the Unknown Soldier, etc.) that I’d find around my grandma’s house.
- Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series
- Many random Halloween and/or Witch-themed books

Games
- Dungeons & Dragons (of course!)
- Dungeon!
- Risk
- Dark Tower
- The Bard’s Tale


When I say these things have an influence on me, I mean that they exert influence even when I’m not directly referencing them. While the list is by no means exhaustive, I think I’ve really captured most of it…other influences on my imagination and gaming are more directly referenced in my mind…for example, I’ve seen The Road Warrior many times…when developing a post-apocalyptic game I often consider how (or if) that film does or should influence the material.

MOST influences on my writing/gaming/preferences ARE conscious. I say, “right, I want something that feels like Indiana Jones.” But sometimes I do weird things and it’s only later that I say, “huh…I think that came from waaaay in the back of my subconscious.” Like maybe my “borg love” has to do with watching the Six Million Dollar Man duke it out with replicants or something. Or maybe that was J.J. Hands.

ANYway, it’s the last thing on the list that I wanted to talk about: the old Electronic Arts computer game The Bard’s Tale.

Back in 1985, this was the game EA was known for, not console sports games, and whenever I see the name Electronic Arts, this is the first thing that pops into my head. No, EA didn’t design Bard’s Tale, but they distributed it and their logo was featured prominently on the box…a box that was necessary to keep around as it featured a map to the town of Skara Brae.


Skara Brae…oh, the frustration you caused me.

I was reminded of Skara Brae recently when contemplating my recent D&D sessions (yet another trip to the Baranof is scheduled for tonight…looks like there will be four of us for a change!). Skara Brae was a dark and dangerous town. Worse than film portrayals of Detroit...I mean BAD. Even a heavily armed party of half-a-dozen couldn’t walk more than a block or two without getting jumped by a bunch of monsters…and that was in broad daylight! At night, it was even worse, and the vermin would be all over you like stink on shit. Really…two steps and whoa! ANOTHER encounter.

At higher levels of experience it was easy enough to avoid these monsters simply by ducking down an alley (i.e. typing “Run”). And one would have to do this in order to get anywhere in a timely fashion (just running down to the corner store? Careful…there’s a half-dozen orcs down on the corner spoiling for a rumble). At the lower levels however, monsters were much more likely to catch you and force combat.

And this led to a lot of death.

See, players used to playing oh, say, D&D were going to want to make their own party of adventurers for a computer game like Bard’s Tale. Not that “Omar” or “El Cid” aren’t fine names and all, but I always enjoyed making characters after the players in my OWN game. Plus, didn’t you want to have a Halfling Monk? I ALWAYS wanted to make a Halfling monk! And let me tell you THAT little guys was NO ONE to F with once he hit level 12 or so.

But getting to level 12 was a bit of a problem. All your characters started with only the most basic of basic equipment…I think a robe and a staff was all any character received at 1st level. And since the shop was down the street from the guild hall (yes, you belonged to an Adventurer’s Guild…just like Dragon Quest!), and you had to walk down the street to get there, and the intervening streets were teeming with threatening monsters…well, your party suffered an awful lot of TPKs.

Not that you had the money to afford a whole lot of fancy equipment anyway…your 1st level characters just weren’t going to survive very long on the streets. And the handful of times YOU got the drop on a single orc or two? You’d probably end up with three gold coins (and at least one or two dead halflings) for your trouble.

Getting to that 2nd or 3rd level was pretty f’ing tough in other words…unless you wanted to A) use the pre-generated party (“the A-Team”) or B) take all of the pre-gen party’s stuff and equip it to your own characters. The pre-gens were pretty weak, too, but they had a single HUGE advantage…the bard owned a magic item called a “Fire Horn” that could breathe fire on an entire group of critters. Without El Cid and his magic dragon breath, you would die many, many times until you put together a big enough string of lucky victories to level up. I don’t remember ever doing this myself…I ALWAYS took the Cid’s fire horn.

Even with the fire horn, you were likely to get smoked a helluva’ lot…and since you were broke and lowly, your options for raising party members was, well, non-existent. You ended up heading back to the Adventuring Guild…often…to drop off corpses and roll up new characters. Praying that you could level up a few party members before your fire horn ran out of charges (it wasn’t an “endless fire horn” after all).

Does this remind you of anything? It reminds me of my recent gaming sessions with my brother and Steve. All this party death and not a single character going up in level…just more “go back to town and roll up new guys” going on. In four sessions, my brother has created four characters. That’s Skara Brae statistics, folks.

Now granted, he’s had some bad luck as well as some bad planning…but is it possible that he’s in need of his own fire horn?

Maybe not…after all, Shmutzy DID have a wand of fireballs...which he used to injure his own party members nearly as often as his opponents. As I said, poor planning has been part of his woes. We’ll have to see how tonight’s game goes.

Anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about this morning…that and the old encounter tag line from Bard’s Tale:

“Once again you face DEATH ITSELF in the form of [insert monsters here]!”

And Speaking of Spanish Speaking Countries...


...check out this review of my B/X Companion on a Spanish blog!

Of course, you'll have to understand Spanish (my wife tells me it's a pretty good review). But what's MORE interesting to me is the guy has over 360 followers! That pretty much blows away all but the Top 3 on Cyclopeatron's recent list of top ranked OSR blogs (I'm only #11, dammit).

What I want to know is...how come I haven't had more sales in Espana? Do I need to print a translation in Spanish? Wow, that idea is just...daunting.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Viva Mexico!

Happy Birthday Mexico!

Today is the Bicentennial celebration of the United States of Mexico. Two hundred years ago today, Mexico threw off the yolk of Spain to become its own nation...or at least started the process. 100 years later they had a 2nd revolution.

For many years, Mexicans talked about the possibility of a 3rd civil war taking place in 2010...but the year is almost out and it looks like all is calm south of the border. That's a good thing.

So congrats and felicidades Mexico. Let's hope the next two hundred years goes great!
: )

How B/X Halflings Kick AD&D Fighter-Thieves’ Asses

Let me count the ways.

Look, I’m not denying that AD&D character classes IN GENERAL are “bigger and badder” than their B/X counterparts…that’s just part of the power creep inherent in Gygax’s campaign notes. The AD&D fighter with his D10 hit dice and +3 points per level after 9th, not to mention multiple attacks at 6th level and exceptional strength, make the guy a powerhouse compared to the lowly B/X (or OD&D) fighter.

It’s a different dimension…”Gary’s World” I suppose one could call it. And for the most part, direct comparisons CAN be made between the two game systems, as the systems are pretty much the same (roll initiative, roll attack against armor class, roll damage, deduct hit points).

Of course, you do have to agree on a mutual “time-distortion” otherwise the B/X characters with their 10 second combat rounds WHUP ASS all over the slow-motion AD&D characters. That’s right, jerk-weeds…YOUR 6th level fighter gets three attacks every two minutes and I’m rolling to attack TWELVE TIMES in that same span for my “lowly B/X” warrior.
: )

But as I said…different dimensions. Assuming you reach some happy medium regarding the melee round, you can have direct square offs between AD&D characters and B/X characters. And in such circumstances, the human AD&D fighter will stomp all over the B/X fighter. And so, too, will the cleric and probably the thief (magic-users are much more evenly matched, though B/X might have the leg up at low levels based on the “all weapons do D6 damage” rule).

HOWEVER, as far as the B/X Halfling versus the AD&D Halfling Fighter-Thief? The B/X Halfling kicks the AD&D guy’s ass, all day long.

Pound for pound and point for point, the B/X Halfling is a BADASS compared to the fighter-thief.

Leaving aside my philosophical position on the merit of allowing halflings to work in the thief profession (after all, there were no “hobbit thieves”), let’s get down to brass tacks and explain why the Halfling CLASS guts the sleazy thief hybrid at every level.

Basically, it’s just a matter of numbers. The numbers (and the law of averages) favor the Halfling class as a warrior over the thief-fighter. The Halfling class IS more powerful…as in “potent, effective, able to exert force.” In other words, in a one-on-one fight, the Halfling spanks the F-T’s furry bottom.

Let’s look at the “average” B/X Halfling:

Rolling 3D6 in order we get 11s all the way across the board (well, 10.5 but we’ll round up to 11). Since Strength is a Prime Requisite, we’ll reduce Intelligence and Wisdom to 9 to raise Strength to 13, per the B/X rules. Dexterity is also a Prime Req, but our Halfling character already gets a +1 to missile combat and individual initiative and a +2 to armor class versus larger-than-man-sized creatures…we’ll leave Dex alone for now.

Hit Points for the Halfling go like this:
1st level – 4.5 (re-rolling 1s and 2s at 1st level per the B/X rules)
2nd level – 8
3rd level – 11.5
4th level – 15
5th level – 18.5
6th level – 22
7th level – 25.5
8th level – 29

Our little combat will not feature magical equipment at all (the fight is to be a fair test of their abilities against each other and useable equipment is part of the deal; magical items though are random and vary from character to character and from campaign to campaign…we’re only looking at averages and what you can count on).

The Halfling wears plate mail and shield (AC 2) and carries a sword.

The AD&D fighter thief will roll 4D6 for ability scores with an average of 13 across the board…not enough for a single bonus to anything. In fact, a Halfling that doesn’t have the MAXIMUM strength (17) can’t even get beyond 4th level fighter ability!

What to do, what to do? If we give the AD&D F-T his max strength, shouldn’t we give the B/X Halfling max strength (18)? But if we do that, the fighter-thief will get smoked even faster! Even if we give the B/X Halfling EQUAL strength (17) the B/X bonus is HIGHER than the AD&D strength bonus.

We’ll leave them where they are for now. The outrageous claim made earlier was that “an AD&D fighter-thief is more powerful than the Halfling,” NOT “an AD&D fighter-thief with maximum abilities is more powerful.”

[and just one thing…if I DID gave these characters maximum abilities, the Halfling character would beat the AD&D character into the ground even deeper…averages should be enough]

The AD&D fighter-thief wears leather armor (AC 8) and carries a long sword.

Hit points for fighter-thieves depend on the XP total of the character.

At 0xp (1st/1st) average hit points are 4.5.
At 16,000xp (4th/4th) average hit points are 18.
At 120,000xp (4th/7th) average hit points are 23.25.
At 500,000xp (4th/11th) average hit points are 30.5.
At 1,000,000xp (4th/12th) average hit points are 32.5.

A B/X Halfling with 0xp is 1st level. One with 16,000xp is 5th level. One with 120,000xp is 8th (maximum level). B/X Halflings that use my B/X Companion rules get some bonuses to attacks (and saves) at 500,000xp and 1,000,000xp, but no additional levels or hit points…they also get the ability to attack twice per melee at 1,000,000xp (the Companion is easier to use than BECMI "attack ranks" so I'm going with it).

Hmmmm…tell you what: I’ll give the F-T the 17 Strength just to reach his maximum fighter level of 5th.

At 36,000xp, the 17 strength F-T reaches maximum fighter level (total levels: 5th/5th) and has an average hit points of 22.5. 36,000xp to a B/X Halfling puts him at 6th level with average hit points of 21.

In combat, the 5th/5th Fighter-Thief attacks once per round and with a 17 strength needs a 13 or better to hit AC 2 (40% chance). The average damage with a long sword is 5.5 including strength bonus for an average Damage Per Round (DPR) of 2.2. That takes 10 rounds to kill our 21 HP Halfling Myrmidon.

The 6th level Halfling attacks once per round also. We didn’t up his strength, leaving it at 13 so he needs an 8 or better to hit AC 8 (65% chance…this would increase to 70% if he had the 17 strength). All weapons in B/X do D6 damage, so his sword averages 4.5 damage per round (this increases to 5.5 if we use the optional Variable Weapon Damage and increases to 6.5 if we match the AD&D character’s 17 strength). His average DPR is 2.9 and he finishes the pansy AD&D character in 8 rounds, even with a 13 strength and the generic damage roll (otherwise he would have finished him in 5 rounds).

And that’s as close as it ever gets.

The Halfling character’s “break point” for his next increase in attack percentage is level 7. If we max his level (8th in other words at 120,000xp) and match that with our AD&D doofus (5th/7th) we see a comparative hit point ratio of 28 to 26. The Fighter-Thief continues to average 2.2 points of Damage Per Round, which means 13 rounds to kill our stalwart Sheriff. Meanwhile, the Sheriff (with only a 13 strength) ups his DPR to 3.4, still finishing the AD&D character in 8 rounds.

At 500,000xp the AD&D character’s level is 5th/11th and has 33.25 hit points…but the Sheriff now has a DPR of 3.825 (attacking as a 10th level fighter) and still drops him in 9.

At 1,000,000xp the AD&D character’s level is 5th/12th and hit points increase +2 up to 35.25. But the B/X Halfling’s attack chance has increased yet again AND he now receives 2 attacks per round. His DPR increases to a whopping 8.55 and the fighter-thief is toast in 5 rounds. This is still with a 13 strength and using the “all weapons do D6" basic rule. If we increased his strength to 17 and allowed his sword to do 1D8 damage the AD&D halfling would be dead in less than 3 rounds. And remember that in B/X a halfing can have a natural, rolled strength score of up to 18.

The B/X Halfling kicks the ass of the AD&D fighter-thief. The advantage of armor is the deciding factor…the B/X Halfling is a WARRIOR, whereas the AD&D fighter-thief is a JOKE.

But at least the AD&D Halfling can pick locks...
; )

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Halfling Love

Some folks have accused me of being down on the Halflings. Let me set the record straight right here and now: I LOVE the little guys.

Now halfling thieves (or any other bullshit aberration) can go to hell. But halflings as presented in the original Basic and Expert sets are a great little class, and one that I personally feel has a great deal of role-playing potential, as well as some real adventuring skills.

“Adventuring skills? Ha!” says the the un-believer. “Maybe up until the party starts hitting Name level. But once the Halfling reaches 8th, they’re pretty much topped out in 'skills' and 'abilities,' even when using the new rules presented in the B/X Companion. Come on, JB…if you really loved the Halfling, you’d be playing Pathfinder or 4th Edition, right?”

Wrong-o, pal.

And let me tell you MY inspiration when it comes to Halflings…it sure ain’t no halfling thief. As originally imagined by Messrs. Gygax, Arneson, and Tolkien I’m all about the doughty halfling warrior. You know, the one who carries a sword instead of a walking stick? The "Took-ish Hobbit," in other words.

Artwork to back it up and fire the imagination? You bet. The Willingham piece inside White Plume Mountain is pretty good, as is Jeff Dee’s work in the Expert set on pages X6 and X16. Contrast those with the stupid little fat man in Mentzer’s Basic!

However, for my favorite halfling warrior illos, it doesn’t get any sweeter than the halfling spitfire inside the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide, pages 170-173. Look at that little guy go…he is the first one to step up and Lunge, dammit, LUNGE…sticking salamanders and stone giants and getting ready to carve himself some troll steaks. Look at that dude with his little skull cap helm and main gauche. That’s MY halfling, boy-o!

[only wish I knew who the artist was...David S. LaForce?]

But let’s go back to the B/X Halfling shall we? So much tougher than the AD&D Halfling after all (What?! you say). Damn straight. Eight full levels (compared to 5 or 6 in AD&D), and better saving throws than a fighter of equal level…plus none of this “max strength 17” garbage. The B/X Halfling may take a knock in hit dice (D6 instead of the fighter’s D8) but at least he can get the +3 to hit and damage of a standard fighter. In AD&D, he’s limited to +1 only…and that’s in a rule set with bloated ability bonuses!

Anyway, the D6 hit points per level isn’t that bad…I mean we ARE talking about a dude that weighs 30-50 pounds, right? He’s still as tough as old leather…tougher than any city-dweller human (thieves, magic-users) and equal to paladins (i.e. clerics) and elves. No, the halfling doesn’t get as many hit points as a dwarf, but then he doesn’t have those stone bones that sink in water either!
; )

Yes, the halfling has a limitation on the weapons he (or she) may use…though of course this only matters if you use the optional Variable Weapon Damage chart. Otherwise, the halfling does the same D6 damage everyone else does (and with Strength as a Prime Requisite, he can boost that ability right from the get-go to do more damage). Truly, at the low levels the halfling is a formidable warrior.

But let’s look at the halfling adventurer’s other skills and abilities. No, not cheaper armor (you’re probably going to have to pay a halfling to make such tiny suits of mail…and even though less metal is used, it takes halflings longer to mine it. Purchasing it cheap from Big Folks just means needing to higher more guards to protect shipments from bandits and highwaymen that would prey on halfling caravans. Net result: same price). No, I’m talking about the normal special abilities inherent in any member of the halfling adventurer class: saving throws, accuracy, armor class, initiative, and concealment.

SAVES: According to the Basic set, halflings get a straight +2 bonus across the board on all saves compared to their fighter counterpart (this is increased to +4 in the Cook/Marsh rules, though I consider this a typo and have corrected it in my B/X Companion tables). Even with my “nerfing” correction, an 8th level halfling has the same saves as a 12th level fighter in every category save Dragon breath…and what halfling in her right mind is going to attack a dragon directly anyway? Outsmart, outsmart, outsmart!

MISSILE ACCURACY: considering Dexterity is another Prime Requisite of halflings (and can thus be raised at the time of character creation) many halflings will have great ability to hit with missile weapons. Missile weapons are the “great equalizer” (no damage penalties for low strength and the same damage for every weapon) and halflings are great shooters. Coupled with their concealment abilities, they make ideal snipers and bushwhackers, and because of their small size they’re probably low down on the priority list for opponents to “take out.” In B/X D&D, halflings move the same speed as anyone else, so a lightly armored halfling will be able to shoot, move, and reset without a huge fear of being run-down by a longer-legged opponent.

ARMOR CLASS: +2 bonus against creatures larger than man-sized? This is your ogre-killer folks. No wonder ol’ Sticker up there (as I call the halfling in DMG illustrations) is all about leading the charge into melee. Plate mail + shield + average dexterity = AC 0 at 1st level. A Dexterity of 13 (remember, raise that Prime Requisite) means AC -1. Let’s look at some of those chances to hit for large monsters:

Gnolls – 19 or better to hit AC -1 (10% chance)
Bugbears – 17 or better to hit AC -1 (20% chance)
Ogres – 16 or better to hit AC -1 (25% chance)

Now a chance is still a chance, but let’s play the Law of Averages game.

Gnoll average damage per round versus Halfling: .5…7 rounds to kill.
Bugbear average DPR: 1…3.5 rounds to kill.
Ogre average DPR 1.375…2.5 rounds to kill.

A halfling with a 13 Strength will average 1.8 DPR against any of these opponents, killing a gnoll in 5 rounds, a bugbear in 8 rounds, and an ogre in 11 rounds. However, if you factor in a possible halfling first strike from a missile weapon, these drop to 4.1, 7.2, and 9.7. An individual halfling will generally kill a gnoll in one-on-one combat, a 2nd level halfling will generally take a bugbear, and a 3rd level Halfling (average 10 points!) will give an ogre a pretty tough time.

Also realize that, due to size restrictions, larger-than-man-sized creatures will probably NOT be able to “gang up” on a Halfling warrior. This works in the halfling’s favor, of course (always better to face singular attacks than multiple), and a 4th Level Halfling Hero with Str/Dex 13 should be able to take any of these foes in single combat, even without magic weapons:

Hero vs. Gnoll: 3.2 rounds to kill versus 28 rounds to kill.
Hero vs. Bugbear: 5.6 rounds to kill versus 14 rounds to kill.
Hero vs. Ogre: 7.6 rounds to kill versus 10.2 rounds to kill.

Our man Sticker from the DMG drawing could take an average sized Stone giant single-handedly, without missile weapons, so long as he was 7th level and armed with +2 arms and armor. He’d still be the odds on favorite with only had a +1 shield, but it would be real tight (though see the Initiative Bonus below).

Compare that to a 7th level fighter (same 13 Str/Dex, same gear: +2 plate, shield, and sword): the fighter takes the stone giant in 9.6 rounds. The stone giant crushes the fighter in five (5).

Advantage: Halfling.

INITIATIVE: Shouldn’t it go without saying that he who strikes first has a better chance of winning a fight? Yes, yes, I realize that it’s NOT always the smart thing to jump aggressively into combat (I was a fencer, remember?)…but in the ABSTRACT combat of B/X D&D, initiative is simply a matter of who gets to DEAL DAMAGE FIRST. Maybe the round IS composed of elaborate feints and parries (or flying elbows and head butts), but the guy (or gal) with the higher D6 roll is the one that gets to “put the hurting on” before his opponent can do unto him.

The initiative bonus is only for INDIVIDUAL initiative…what one might call the “dueling scenario,” and halflings should already receive a bonus due to their high (Prime Requisite) Dexterity. However, DMs should account for the size advantage of a halfling when it comes to determining how many foes can actually engage ‘em in a single round. While I generally rule that two ogres can attack one man-sized opponent and three orcs or goblins can attack a human (that isn't surrounded), I’d reduce these numbers to 1 and 2 (respectively) for Halflings…and possibly 1 and 1 depending on the circumstance. Halflings are runty and this is an ADVANTAGE, especially in CQB. Yes, they break easily (compared to fighters…they’re surprisingly tough compared to other PCs), but they’re slippery and maneuverable and players (including DMs) need to remember this and take it into account within the chaos of a tunnel melee.

One-on-one with an initiative bonus means the halfling is getting the chance to do damage FIRST, more often than not. Since many foes will be concentrating on (literally) bigger threats first, this just buys the halfling MORE time to end the battle quickly.

CONCEALMENT: From page B10:

Outdoors, a halflings are difficult to spot, having the ability to seemingly vanish into woods or underbrush. Halflings have only a 10% chance of being detected in this type of cover, and even in dungeons there is a one-third chance (a roll of 1 or 2 on a 1d6) that a Halfling will not be seen in normal light if the character finds some cover (such as shadows), and remains absolutely quiet and still.

Compare this to the description of the Thief skill Hide in Shadows:

Hide in Shadows cannot be done unless the thief remains perfectly still (not moving or attacking).

These are two very different abilities. Let’s look at the first part of the halfling’s concealment ability.

“Outdoors, halflings are difficult to spot, having the ability to seemingly vanish into woods or underbrush. Halflings have only a 10% chance of being detected in this type of cover…”

Nothing here implies that a halfling has to do anything at all to be virtually undetectable (a 90% concealment rating is equal to a 12th level Master Thief’s ability to Hide in Shadows). So long as there is “woods or underbrush” into which the Halfling can disappear, the little guy (or gal) is gone. Likewise, nothing indicates that movement or attacking will break this cover, nor that a Halfling is somehow prevented from disappearing in plain sight so long as there is the proper cover to “seeming vanish” into! Basically, if the halfling is outdoors and not caught in the open (or in a desert or bare rock face), they have a Get Out of Jail Free card that can be immediately played.

Every halfling that encounters a possible opponent in the wilderness should immediately “go to ground” so as to observe and analyze potential danger. No, your buddies are probably going to be spotted (like the trolls nab the dwarves in The Hobbit), but YOU can escape and come back later with a well-timed rescue attempt or ambush! Only a RETARDED halfling would NOT disappear as soon as an encounter appears…even a surprised halfling (assuming he is not immediately engaged and attacked) should bug out as his first action.

Regarding the second part of the halfling’s concealment ability:

“…even in dungeons there is a one-third chance (a roll of 1 or 2 on a 1d6) that a Halfling will not be seen in normal light if the character finds some cover (such as shadows), and remains absolutely quiet and still.”

This appears to be the exact same as a thief’s ability to Hide in Shadows except that it uses a D6 rather than a D% (and the chance is fixed at 4th level thief ability). I presume “normal light” is normal for a dungeon (torches, lanterns, etc.).

How and when the halfling can use this ability isn’t discussed; one might infer that the demihuman can simply vanish into shadows as he does into the wilderness…a mighty useful ability. Also left unmentioned is who rolls to check if the Halfling remains “not seen.” UNlike the thief ability, there’s no mention that the halfling will thing himself successful at hiding, even when he’s not (it is specified in the thief description that DM makes the percentage roll). My interpretation: the halfling’s player makes the roll and immediately knows whether or not the character has failed to hide!

“Oh, crap! There’s not enough cover here to conceal me! My foot/cloak/sword is sticking out!” Guess it’s time to fight…good thing the Halfling has that initiative bonus!

The halfling character is a savvy warrior, not some incompetent, 2nd rate fighter. And with the multiple attack options provided to the experienced halfling in the B/X Companion…I’d be happy to play one myself! Have at you!
; )



Yet Another New Combat System

A while back, I offered up an alternative B/X combat system that used an “attackless” system (i.e. no attack roll). Though it was one of my more popular downloads, I received very little feedback on it…probably because no one is using it. I don’t blame folks; I’m not using it either.

Thing is, it was designed to do a couple things: 1) make combat faster by eliminating redundancy, and 2) make combat more dangerous. However, after the last three weeks, four game sessions, and some 10-11 hours of gaming I’ve come to the conclusion that B/X is:

- Fast enough
- Deadly enough

I mean, how many combat encounters have I run? 12 or 13? Including some pretty beefy ones (I’m counting the B1 Final Battle as one combat encounter though it involved two mummies, four ogres, 2 high level NPCs and a troll, broken into 3-4 “waves”). Even with Expert-level characters, death can come swiftly (well, except for dwarves…man, those little guys can soak up some punishment!).

Of course, I found this out recently when running X1: Isle of Dread. While the main PC (a 7th level cleric) was not eliminated, most of his buddies WERE…by wolves and cave bears. Wild animals. Not even dragons or giants! And another mid-level adventure (“Black Rock Island,” written by my buddy the Doc) ended in a TPK for a party of mid-level characters, due to an encounter with a (B/X modified) Grell (10 paralyzing attacks per round? You don’t think a few are going to hit and some saves are going to be blown?).

“Neat” as my attack-less system may have been, it’s over-kill in a game where survivability is far from guaranteed. Really, the fastest way to “up the deadly” is simply to increase the number of attacks thrown at player characters. Multiple attack monsters (claw/claw/bite) or hordes of little guys (goblins with pig stickers) will do a number on adventurers regardless of magic plate mail and high dexterity.

Well, usually. There IS an intersection of high hit points AND high armor class that seems to make some characters a LOT more invulnerable than others…which is probably the reason why I remember simple fighters being the most badass characters “back in the day.” Even though monsters need a 19 or 20 to hit you, if you only have 6 or 10 hit points a lucky shot can still eventually finish you off. Likewise, 20-30 hit points won’t last very long if you’ve got a weak-ass AC.

But combine the good armor with the high hit points? You become a veritable juggernaut.

Well anyway…back to my NEW new combat system: you’d think I’d get tired of tinkering with B/X combat and you’d be right; I AM tired of it. Why can’t things just be perfect? But my recent adventure sessions have left me a touch dissatisfied. And reading back over my old blog posts, I can see I was already onto a “good idea” right before my “attack-less system” (in fact, it was the good idea that directly LED to the attack-less system), namely HAVE BONUSES MODIFY DICE TYPE.

Rather than do my usual long-winded preamble (“pre-ramble?”) thing, I’m going to cut to the chase and lay out the new rules. After that, I will explain things on a point-by-point basis:

NEW COMBAT SYSTEM (Notes Follow)

A) Attack rolls are un-changed from normal B/X. Two-handed weapons strike last in combat.

B) Damage rolls for ALL melee weapons start at D6, with the following exceptions:
- Halfling weapons roll D4
- Daggers roll D4
- Characters with Strength less than 9 roll D4

C) Normal bonuses to damage only increase DICE TYPE, not damage (e.g. a fighter with a +2 to damage increases damage from D6 to D10, i.e. two dice types).

D) Characters use ONLY THE HIGHER BONUS of Strength or magical enchantment (e.g. a fighter with 16 strength (+2) using a +1 sword only increases damage two dice types, NOT three). All bonuses are cumulative for the purpose of attack rolls (e.g. the fighter with a 16 strength wielding a +1 sword adds +3 to his attack roll) and a weapon’s enchantment bonus (only) is still used to determine whether or not a creature with weapon immunity can be attacked at all.

E) Normally, damage dice may NOT be increased above D12. A weapon that has an additional bonus against a certain type of opponent increases its dice roll by ONE type, and this bonus may increase the damage dice to D20. The standard bonus listed against a particular opponent is used as penalty to that opponent’s Morale rolls (so both a sword +1/+2 versus reptiles and +1/+4 versus trolls would only increase damage dice by one level for their specific opponent, but would add a +2 or +4 (respectively) to Morale checks for opponents of the specific type).

F) Using a two-handed weapon adds a +1 bonus to damage rolled.

G) Weapons with a +4 general bonus add +1 to damage rolls and weapons with a +5 general bonus add +2 to damage rolls; such powerful weapons may be found in the B/X Companion.

H) Doubling affects such as a thief’s backstab or girdle of giant strength apply their doubling effect AFTER all bonuses are added to a dice roll. Only one such doubling effect ever applies (for example a thief wearing a girdle of giant strength only doubles backstabbing damage; damage is NOT quadrupled!).

I) Damage for ALL missile weapons start at D6, though crossbows are treated as “two-handed weapons” (i.e. they always strike last compared to other missile weapons, but they gain a +1 bonus to damage rolled).

J) Magical enchantment increases dice type for missile weapons as for melee weapon. If using both an enchanted weapon AND enchanted ammunition only apply the highest bonus when determining dice type (for example, a +1 bow firing +2 arrows would only roll D10 for damage, NOT D12).

K) Wielding a weapon in each hand (“dual wielding”) allows you to roll your damage dice twice, retaining the better result.


These are going to be my new “standard” rules. I will probably continue to use my “Natural 20 does max damage” and “excess damage carries over to adjacent opponents” House Rules, as the modified max damage isn’t much different from my prior “double Strength bonus.”

NOTES:

A) This is standard.

B) People are probably going to give me crap about the Halflings. However, please note that part of the original balancing mechanics of B/X is the limited class of weapons available to the little guys (and gals). They’re still able to use missile weapons as effectively as other characters…and strength is a Prime Requisite of the Halfling class, so players can increase it if they want to do more damage. However, nothing changes the fact that Halflings are smaller, have less mass, less reach, and less leverage. They do less damage. As a SIDE NOTE, some DM’s may wish to limit Magic-Users to D4 damage also, due to “lack of training;” however, the Normal Human monster can do 1D6 damage even without being an adventurer, and I see no reason to limit a magic-user myself (unless he or she is only wielding a dagger). M-Us already have worse attack chances than other adventurers, and generally have low Strength (and they are unable to increase it as it’s not a Prime Req). I’d leave it the way it is. Sorry, Hobbits!

C) This was the whole point of the change.

D) Not only do I find this reasonable and a way to prevent “bonus creep,” I also find it echoes back to OD&D when magic swords only added to hit and not damage. I like this!

E) Basic and Expert magic weapons max out at +3, the same bonus as a character with 18 strength. Three dice types increase D6 to D12 so that seems a perfectly reasonable cut-off point. The D20 for “slayer weapons” makes those items even nicer to own. The morale rules were from an earlier blog post.

F) When I was adding double Strength bonus damage to two-handed weapons, average damage for a guy with 16 strength was showing up as 7.5 per hit (9.5 for Grouch with his +2 battle axe)…and it would have been even higher for the 18 strength Meaty if he’d chosen to use such a weapon. That is entirely too much in my opinion. A 16 strength human is still human, and shouldn’t be able to register an auto-kill against a Normal Human with a stroke of the club…I want him to work for it a little! This is another reason to go to the “Dice increase” scheme…even rolling a D12, there’s still a chance you’ll roll a “1” and only wound someone (instead of minimum damage being 5 ot 7!).

G) Had to address those Companion weapons! What’s the point of having a +4 or +5 weapon if it carries the same dice type as a +3 weapon? For Companion level challenges an extra damage bonus (of +1 or +2) IS appropriate. Some of those monsters are HARD. : ) However, it’s still LESS damage creep than an AD&D fighter with a +5 broadsword and 18/00 strength (let alone Weapon Specialization!).

H) I just like this. Also note that the same rules apply for tripling or quadrupling damage effects (for example, a Companion-level thief’s backstabbing ability). Some combinations are still extremely potent…a Wyrm Lance wielded by a fighter with a girdle of giant strength for example…but these rare individuals will be called upon to tackle the toughest challenges (like ancient wyrms).

As a quick example, let’s look at the Thor Hammer from the B/X Companion. A character with gauntlets of ogre power and wearing a girdle of giant strength (necessary to use the weapon at its greatest potential), does D12+2 damage, doubled (D12+2+1 if used two-handed) for a potential spread of 6-28 (or 8-30 two-handed). Under the standard B/X rules, such a weapon would do 18-28 (1D6+3+5 x2). Perhaps not as much as the AD&D Hammer of Thunderbolts (which got up into the 40s), but formidable enough, and with a more reasonable damage spread.

I & J) This is simply how the rules apply to missile weapons. Unlike the “attack-less” system there’s no issue with whether or not weapons miss. The crossbows “striking last” is the reason (I believe) that Moldvay lists the crossbow as a “two-handed weapon” in the Basic set (unlike, say, the bow…which still uses two hands!). Giving the crossbow the extra damage bonus also helps replicate (to my mind) the “weapon so deadly it was outlawed by the Pope.”

K) This is likewise standard; other Companion stipulations (regarding minimum Strength and Dexterity) would still apply if used previously.